Young same-sex attracted people are at significantly more risk of developing mental health problems than their heterosexual counterparts, according to findings from a long-running New Zealand study released this week.

The research from Otago University’s Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences is part of a long-term project that is tracking the health and life progress of about 1,000 children born in Christchurch in 1977.

Its latest findings say young gays and lesbians tend to have higher rates of depression, anxiety and illicit drug use than heterosexuals of the same age.

Young males with a predominantly heterosexual orientation have mental health problems five times higher than young straight men, the study found.

Young lesbians’ rate of mental health difficulties is twice that of their heterosexual counterparts.

One in six of the study’s subjects had experienced some degree of same-sex attraction or gay sexual contact by the time they turned 25, although only three percent described themselves as predominantly homosexual.

The study’s executive director, professor David Fergusson, said the results clearly support the view that young people of gay, lesbian and bisexual orientation are at increased risk of mental health problems and suicidal behaviours.

Fergusson said the reasons for the heightened risk remained to be established.

While it seems likely that factors such as social discrimination and homophobia may play a role in mental health problems with this group, there may also be other social and life-style factors that place gay, lesbian and bisexual young people at great risk of mental health problems and suicidal behaviours.

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