LGBT people with acne at higher risk for suicidal thoughts, study shows

The study found that 35 percent of people with acne who identify as sexual minorities have suicidal thoughts.

Helen Sabrowsky

People who identify as non-heterosexual and suffer from acne have an increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts, according to a University of Minnesota study in the November issue of an academic journal.

While previous studies established that sexual minorities and people who have acne are at a significantly higher risk of depression and suicidal ideation, this study was the first to examine the risk of LGBT individuals with acne. Some experts say the results underscore the need for increased mental health screening and specialized care.

The study found that roughly 35 percent of people who identify as sexual minorities and have acne have suicidal thoughts, compared to about eight percent of heterosexual people with acne. 

For people without acne, about 15 percent of LGBT people and five percent of heterosexual people have suicidal thoughts. 

University researcher Matthew Mansh launched the study based on the hypothesis that sexual minorities with acne would be at a higher risk of suicidal ideation, since previous research shows members of both groups have especially high rates of suicidal thoughts.

Researchers analyzed data collected from a portion of the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent to Adult Health, focusing on individuals ages 18 to 28.

Mansh — who is interested in researching sexual and gender minority issues in dermatology — hopes the medical community can use the results of the study to be more diligent about screening for mental illness.

He said sexual orientation can impact how patients experience diseases. He wants these results to push medical professionals to implement a standardized method of documenting patients’ sexual orientations.

Identifying at-risk groups “can help physicians understand that they may need to provide additional support to certain patients,” said Bonnie Klimes-Dougan, a University psychology professor.

However, Klimes-Dougan warned that the medical community should use caution when categorizing these groups as high-risk for suicidal ideation, since it could normalize suicidal thoughts in certain groups.

Studies like this that demonstrate which groups are more likely to struggle with depression and suicidal ideation are important in helping professionals better understand the communities they serve, said Ashby Dodge, clinical director of the Trevor Project, an LGBT youth advocacy group.

Dodge said it’s important to note that being part of a sexual or gender minority doesn’t cause someone to have suicidal thoughts.

“It’s society’s reaction to them,” she said. “The societal reaction and behavior is what can cause someone to engage in suicidal behavior.”

Going forward, Mansch hopes to conduct a similar study focusing on other skin conditions, like psoriasis, to better understand the relationship between dermatology and mental health.

“This study was further proof that knowing more about your patients may help provide more culturally competent and tailored care,” Mansh said.