Landmark report uncovers higher rates of drinking, smoking and mental health issues among LGB adults

Updated: Aug 23


Image credit: Harry Quan

A first-of-its-kind report has highlighted concerning mental health disparities between heterosexual and lesbian, gay and bisexual adults.


Published by NHS Digital, the report gathered data from a sample of 1132 lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) adults who took part in the Health Survey for England (HSE) between 2011 and 2018.


The HSE asked questions around several different health topics, including general health, health-related behaviours, and mental health and wellbeing.


Regarding general health, the number of LGB adults reporting 'bad' or 'very bad' health (7%) was almost the same as heterosexual adults (6%), and levels of overweight or obesity were lower (51% vs 63%).


However, health-related behaviours such as drinking or smoking were more prevalent among LGB adults, with 1 in 3 (32%) LGB adults drinking more than 14 units of alcohol in the past week compared with 1 in 4 (24%) heterosexual adults.


Smoking was also more common among LGB adults with a proportion of current smokers of 27%, compared with 18% of heterosexual adults.


The highest proportion of adults who were current smokers were LGB women (31%), and the lowest proportion were heterosexual women (16%).


Read more: Loneliness and isolation 'most urgent' issues for LGBT+ community

Similar disparities were seen when looking specifically at mental health and wellbeing scores.


According to the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale – a measure of general wellbeing that focuses on the positives of mental health – LGB adults had a lower average score (48.9) compared with heterosexual adults (51.4).


LGB women reported the lowest wellbeing scores with an average of 47.3.


Mental, behavioural or neurodevelopmental disorders classed as a longstanding condition were also far more common among LGB adults, affecting 16%.


In comparison, just 6% of heterosexual adults reported the same.


Commenting on the report's findings, NHS Digital’s chief statistician Chris Roebuck said: “One of the biggest benefits to collecting and publishing health data is the ability to highlight health inequalities. We’re pleased to be able to publish these LGB statistics for the first time, which show important differences in health status and behaviours."


An issue that needs addressing


The findings highlight an ongoing concern for the LGBTQ+ community: the prevalence of mental health issues.


According to 2018 figures from leading UK LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, 52% of LGBT had experienced depression in the year prior to the report's publication, while 56% of bisexual men and 72% of bisexual women had experienced anxiety.


However, despite such high prevalence rates of common mental health issues, 1 in 7 LGBT people had avoided treatment for fear of discrimination.


For those that had interacted with the healthcare system, 1 in 4 had witness discriminatory or negative remarks against LGBT people by healthcare staff.


With these new findings from NHS Digital, it seems health inequalities faced by LGB individuals remain a prominent issue that needs to be addressed.


To read the full NHS Digital report, click here.


Written by Marco Ricci

Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health