Queer women more likely to die earlier than hetero women, and not just due to mental health reasons

A new study has revealed that lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) women are more likely to die earlier than straight women. 

It was always largely understood that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience mental health or substance abuse issues, which could contribute to premature death. But a study into how chronic illness affects these groups has never been looked into, until now.

Lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to die up to 37% earlier than heterosexual women according to the Nurses Health Study II, which examined the risk factors of chronic illnesses, as well as tobacco and alcohol use, and mental health, in women. 

The worrying statistics looked into women’s medical records as far back as 1989, and showed “participants identifying as lesbian or bisexual had markedly earlier mortality during the study period compared with heterosexual women”, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association

Lesbian women were found to die 20% sooner, and bisexual women 37% sooner than their heterosexual counterparts due to “systemic and highly reproducible health disparities for LGB people, particularly LGB women”.

Bisexual women have a higher risk of premature death due to their “experiences of discrimination not only from outside of queer communities but also from within queer communities.” according to the study’s lead author Sarah McKetta. 

McKetta told PinkNews: “We were very surprised by the magnitude of that risk. We thought that we would find a disparity. We didn’t think it would be that high.”

She says that often bisexual women are pressured to conceal their identity, especially in situations when they are in romantic partnerships with men.

“We know from decades of research on experiences of sexual minority stigma that concealing one’s identity leads to these really sinister internalising processes, and it leads to more stress,” she says.

Those stresses could lead to substance abuse issues, just to cope: “We’ve seen this pattern before where bisexual women are drinking more, smoking more, have worse mental health, have worse cardiovascular markers than heterosexual women and lesbian women.”

McKetta does admit that the situation could be far worse outside of this sample set, as “a lot of the disparities that we see for queer people are also patterned along racial lines.

“This sample we used was a lot of white women. So we think that this finding, which again, was a very big finding, is actually an underestimate of what this would be if we could do this sample out in the general public population.”

Readers affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans free on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org) or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). Readers in the US are encouraged to contact the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.