Higher rates of mental health disorders in gay, lesbian and bisexual Canadians

Gay, lesbian and bisexual Canadians experience higher rates of anxiety and mood disorders than other Canadians.


Researchers were already aware of this issue both anecdotally and from smaller surveys. However, a recently published study led by Basia Pakula, a PhD candidate in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, has given researchers a real sense of the prevalence rates in Canada. Collecting numbers from 2007-2012 from the annual Canadian Community Health Survey, the researchers assessed data for more than 220,000 Canadians. Despite controlling for a lot of known factors that affect general mental health such as low income or lack of access to certain resources, the researchers found that gay and lesbian Canadians reported about twice the rates of mood disorders and anxiety compared to heterosexuals. As for bisexual Canadians, the rates were almost four times that of heterosexuals. Not only that, but the research showed that these individuals were also more likely to turn to heavy drinking to cope with the stress. 


Although the study did not look at causes of anxiety and mood disorders, there is an extensive body of literature from the United States that suggests that LGBT people experience chronic stress related to prejudice and stigma at both the structural and personal level. Bisexual people, in particular, often face a double stigma that comes from both the heterosexual and gay or lesbian communities, which may serve to explain their significantly higher reported rates of anxiety.

“[This data] equips us with knowledge for things like planning and allocation of resources for services to better respond to the issues facing these groups,” said Pakula. Pakula thinks that work remains to be done in establishing programs that build resilience or are positive factors for health and well-being, rather than just programs that focus on risk factors.  

It is also a cue to think about the inclusivity of the communities UBC creates and those we create as students. For example, the university runs a summer program called Campout that focuses specifically on “empowerment ... and building skills around health and leadership,” which is a good way to allocate resources, said Pakula. The burning of a pride flag on campus just last month, however, is just a reminder of how much work can be and needs to be done by the students themselves.

“Become informed and learn how to be a better ally,” suggested Pakula. “Interest from the campus community alone is important.”