A study by a group of New Zealand medical students has found that gay and lesbian youth throughout the country are at greater risk of mental illness than their straight peers, a finding LGBT community and welfare advocates say is “unsurprising” and likely paralleled throughout the world.

Students and faculty members at Otago University’s Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences say they found homosexual orientation more likely to be associated with increased rates of depression, anxiety, illicit drug dependence, suicidal thoughts and attempts. The study followed and examined more than 1,000 young people.

The New Zealand AIDS Foundation says the paper, which will be presented at a forthcoming world conference on gender identity, is an “important contribution” to improving scientific knowledge about sexual orientation.

“The NZAF has always said that young gay people are at heightened risk of mental health problems. This study provides further clear evidence of that,” spokesman Steve Attwood said in a statement to the press.

The paper found young gay men are five times more likely to develop mental health problems than their heterosexual counterparts. Young lesbians fared better, but were still found to be twice as likely to develop mental health problems than straight women.

“We believe that the gender difference (males showing more problems) is likely to reflect heightened social stigma associated with male homosexuality in New Zealand society,” Attwood says.

Pamela Dwyer, co-ordinator of GLBT support group UniQ at Otago University, agreed.

“Men are still struggling with the expectations of machoism – to be masculine or to be gay,” she said. “The social experiences that many of us have had are isolating, insecuring, stressful and damaging. I hope this study encourages people to be aware of the damage that has and is being done on our young queer people and doesn’t create another stereotype for people to blindly hold onto.”

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