The stress of being rejected or victimized because of sexual orientation may disrupt hormonal responses in lesbians, gays and bisexuals (LGB), new research from Concordia University suggests. This investigation examined environmental risks and protective factors that counterbalanced them in LGB youth.
"Compared to their heterosexual peers, suicide rates are up to 14 times higher among lesbian, gay and bisexual high school and college students," said Michael Benibgui, who led this investigation as part of his PhD thesis at Concordia's Department of Psychology and Centre for Research in Human Development.
"Depression and anxiety are widespread," he continued. "To learn why this occurs, we studied the physiological impact of homophobic social environments on a group of healthy young LGB adults."
The study examined the link between living in a homophobic environment and ''internalized homophobia,'' e.g., feeling negatively about oneself because of one''s sexual identity as LGB.
Individuals who experienced more LGB-related stress – arguments about sexual identity, bullying or discrimination – had higher internalized homophobia and showed increased production of the stress hormone cortisol compared to peers in more positive environments.
What's more, LGB youth who showed more internalized homophobia and abnormal cortisol activity also experienced increased symptoms of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Benibgui said abnormal cortisol activity in LGB youth, combined with the vicious cycle of stress, could be further influenced by a complex set of biological, psychological and social factors.
"This study shows a clear relation between abnormal cortisol levels and environmental stressors related to homophobia," he said.
The study has been published as a doctoral thesis in clinical psychology.