Change in social policies could reduce high rate of depression in men who have sex with men

February 01, 2004

Recent experience as the target of anti-gay violence or threats, not identifying as gay, or feeling alienated from the gay community are the major predictors of depression in men who have sex with men (MSM) and public health officials should address these issues by seeking changes in social policies, say UCSF researchers.

"Hate-crime laws targeting anti-gay violence, recognition of gay relationships through same-sex marriage or domestic partnership laws, and programs encouraging gay men to 'come out' and to integrate into the gay community should be studied as ways to tackle the public health problem we found of high rates of depression among MSM," says Thomas C. Mills, MD, MPH, a retired associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS) who is prinicpal author of a new study.

The study, published in the February issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, found that MSM have depression at a rate three times greater than men in general. Rates of drug and alcohol abuse, HIV status, and socioeconomic variables were not significant predictors of depression in MSM.

"We were struck by the finding that the issues that could be generally described as being related to homophobia were so strongly predictive of depression among MSM. We believe that one can safely assume that the much higher rate of depression in MSM is directly related in some fashion to the larger social issue of homophobia," says Mills.

The study analyzed data collected in the Urban Men's Health Study, a household survey conducted between November 1996 and February 1998 of 2,881 men who have sex with men in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The interviews covered numerous health issues.

These four cities were selected due to their importance as regional centers, being the source of two thirds of U.S. AIDS cases among men who have sex with men, and the estimated size and concentration of their population of men who have sex with men.
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UCSF CAPS co-authors are Joseph Catania, PhD, professor of medicine and the Urban Men's Health Study principal investigator, and study co-investigators, Jay Paul, PhD; Lance Pollack, PhD; Judith Moskowitz, PhD, MPH; Jesse Canchola, MS; and Y. Jason Chang, MS.

This study was funded by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health with supplemental support from the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control.

University of California - San Francisco

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