A Shift in Sexual Identities in Early Adulthood is Tied to Depression

A major study shows that people whose sexual identities changed toward same-sex attraction in early adulthood reported more symptoms of depression. The national study showed that people who didn’t change their sexual orientation, or changed in the opposite direction were less likely to have depressive symptoms according to a new study by a University of Illinois at Chicago sociologist which was released this week.

web-teenagers-rexThe study, “Sexual Orientation Identity Change and Depressive Symptoms: A Longitudinal Analysis,” which appears in the current issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, found that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who initially identified as heterosexual or who had not reported same-sex romantic attraction or relationships were more likely to experience depressive symptoms than others.

This includes heterosexual, bisexual, gay, and lesbian individuals who reported stable sexual identities throughout the survey period, as well as people whose identities changed from gay, lesbian, or bisexual to heterosexual, or from gay or lesbian to bisexual.

The findings suggest that a sexual identity change toward same-sex attraction may continue to be a stressful life event despite American society’s increasing acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, said study author Bethany Everett, an assistant professor of sociology at the university.

“This study highlights the need for social support during periods of sexual identity transition toward same- sex attraction, not just for adolescents, but also for young adults,” said Everett. “Supporting people during this time-period may be critical for improving their mental health.”

Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, also known as Add Health, Everett’s study included over 11,200 respondents who were interviewed in both the third (2001-2002) and fourth (2008-2009) waves of the survey about topics including their depressive symptoms. Respondents’ ages ranged from 18 to 26 in wave three and 25 to 33 in wave four.

Everett said future research should continue to investigate the factors that contribute to the link between sexual identity change and symptoms of depression.

“It may be that changes to bisexual, gay, or lesbian identities expose young adults to new sources of LGBT-related discrimination,” she said. “Additionally, there is a certain amount of stigma attached to sexual fluidity itself that may impact mental health during this developmental period.”

The study was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Mike Szymanski
Mike Szymanski has written about bisexual issues since 1989 and has one of the longest-running regular bisexual columns as the National Bisexuality Examiner. He came out as bisexual in a cover story of Genre magazine, which resulted in more than 50 television appearances, including Ricki Lake, Phil Donahue Show and 20/20. Szymanski won the Lambda Literary Award in 2007 for co-authoring an informative humor book “The Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe: Quips, Tips and Lists for Those Who Go Both Ways.” Write him at [email protected]