Covid Scotland: Gay men 50% more likely to have depression during pandemic, study finds

Scotland has seen an ‘alarming’ rise in depression and anxiety in gay and bisexual men during the pandemic, a new study has found.

Depression is 44 per cent higher and anxiety 26 per cent higher in these men compared to men in the wider population, found the study led by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).

Authors of the study, involving over 1,000 participants and published in the Journal of Health Psychology and Behavioural Medicine, called for urgent action to address the “growing mental health crisis” in gay and bisexual men in Scotland.

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They faced the same stresses as the rest of the population during the pandemic, researchers said, but had to contend with the added loss of safe spaces as a result of lockdowns.

This included the closure of gay bars, and younger men returning to live with parents who did not know about or did not approve of their sexuality.

Dr Jamie Frankis, GCU health psychology reader and principal investigator of the study, said it has “really set alarm bells ringing”.

Another study which Dr Frankis also led found that even before the pandemic levels of depression among gay and bisexual men were six times higher than men in the wider society, and levels of anxiety were four times higher.

Dr Frankis said the findings from both studies “paint a very bleak picture and are a real cause for concern”.

Principal Investigator Dr Jamie Frankis.

He said: "Although our research focused on gay and bisexual men, these issues are relevant to the whole LGBTQI+ community because the core of the mental health problem is about minority stress which the whole community will experience.”

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Levels of other psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were the same as other men in Scotland in the pre-Covid study, Dr Frankis said.

This led the team to conclude that stigma, negative social attitudes and minority stress have caused the higher levels of anxiety and depression among gay and bisexual men, and to investigate this further in the second study.

More than half of the gay and bisexual men with depression and anxiety identified by the study had not been diagnosed.

When asked why they had not sought help, many of the men said they felt health services needed to adopt a more inclusive approach.

Dr Frankis said: “We asked the men why they were not accessing support available to them. Firstly, they said they didn’t know which organisations they could seek help from.

"Secondly, they said normally they would approach gay organisations but they didn’t go to them because they thought that they would focus only on their sexual health rather than mental health.

“Perhaps most importantly, they said they didn’t approach mainstream mental health organisations because they felt they needed to adopt a more inclusive approach, not just for gay and bisexual men, but for LGBTQI+ people.”

Experts from GCU and other bodies including NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, NHS Lothian and Waverley Care have drawn up guidelines for short, medium and long-term improvements to services for gay and bisexual men.

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