Sweden’s Health and Welfare study of mental illness among same-sex couples show the need of action

This week the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) presented a registry study that shows the increase in mental illness, and risk use among people in same-sex marriage compared to people in different-sex marriages.

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Mental Health

The study also shows increased mortality. – The results of the study provide further support to what we demanded for years: targeted efforts are needed to deal with mental illness, said Christian Antoni Möllerop, Vice President of RFSL.

Since the early 90s, there have been several studies on homosexuals and bisexuals living conditions. In recent years, studies have also included transgender people’s health and living conditions. The majority of these studies have been based on self-assessments developed through surveys or interviews. Those who focused on gay and bisexual people have all shown a clear trend – higher degree of mental illness than the general population, increased incidence of risky use of alcohol and drugs, as well as an increased risk of suicide. By downloading data from Statistics Sweden’s register of differences and same-sex partnerships, and cross-checks with the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) of diagnostic records, the Board examined the differences in ill health in Sweden. The report, published yesterday, show an elevated stress-related mental illness among same-sex couples, confirming results from previous studies.

Mental illness

The report shows that the risk of depression or anxiety are twice as high among men living in a same-sex relationship than men who are married to a woman. Even women in same-sex relationships are at increased risk for these diagnoses. RFSL has for years tried to persuade the government and various authorities to ensure targeted interventions against LGBT people in order to prevent mental illness and suicide.

. To achieve change requires that prevention efforts targeted specifically to gay and bisexual people in terms of both suicide prevention as psychosocial support and support to get away from a dependence. Health care personnel must also be better at capturing and treating those already suffering from poor mental health, hazardous use and dependence. For this to happen requires strategic interventions focusing specifically on the group and their needs, said Christian Antoni Mollerup, vice president of RFSL.

The report also shows that men and women in same-sex relationships using more psychotropic drugs, which seems adequate in relation to the increasing burden of disease in the group. That women in same-sex marriages have a lower use of drugs than men in same-sex marriage, while women have a higher incidence of hazardous use and dependence may indicate that they resort to alcohol and drugs to numb mental illness instead of seeking medical help.

Hazardous use and dependence

Another serious findings is that women in same-sex marriages have a three times higher risk of addiction or hazardous use compared with women in different-sex marriages. Hazardous use or dependence were mainly alcohol. For young women in a same-sex marriage, the risk of dependence or risky use are seven times higher than among women in different-sex marriages.

9 February the Swedish Government published a brief, “A comprehensive strategy for alcohol, drugs, doping and tobacco policy 2016-2020”. RFSL has long drawn attention to policy makers about the importance of including gay and bisexual people’s particular vulnerability with regards to the hazardous use are included in the action plan with concrete preventive measures. At the publication of the Government’s brief could RFSL regret that this was not included at all in the now established action plan of actions and measures.

– The results from the Board’s report confirms earlier studies showing that over-consumption of alcohol can be a way to deal with stress as a result of discrimination and exclusion. With the design of ANDT strategy, we can conclude that the government has ignored our requests for clear measures to reduce our target hazardous use, said Christian Antoni Möllerop.

Mortality

One of the report’s most serious findings is excess mortality among people living in a same-sex marriage than those who are married to someone of another gender. Among people in same-sex marriage was an increased premature mortality (death in both somatic illnesses or suicide), especially among men. Suicide was also common among women in same-sex marriages than among women in different-sex marriages. Among men, the incidence of suicide is highest among men who had been in both the differences and a same-sex marriage.

– It is tragic that we in Sweden can see these clear signs of vulnerability and society’s inability to protect the entire population on equal terms. Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) delving into the available records is a tragic testimony to the depth of the bad health that affects people who live with someone of the same sex to a greater extent than others, and in many cases leads to a premature death. Various Governments have ignored bad health issues within the group for decades, and it is time that the authorities and decision makers shoulders take the responsibility and make a change. Targeted interventions are needed, concludes Christian Antoni Möllerop.

Photo By Star_of_life.svg: GustavbPsi2.svg: Gdhderivative work: Beao (Star_of_life.svgPsi2.svg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons