Online Program

Mental health and substance use of lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members: A first look

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 : 9:00 a.m. - 9:15 a.m.

Alisha Creel, Ph.D., Public Health and Survey Research Division, ICF International, Fairfax, VA
Frances M. Barlas, Ph.D., Public Health and Survey Research Division, ICF International, Fairfax, VA
Mark Mattiko, M.Ed., United States Coast Guard, Washington, DC
Jacqueline Pflieger, Ph.D., Public Health and Survey Research Division, ICF International, Fairfax, VA
William Higgins, Ph.D, Public Health and Survey Research Division, ICF International, Fairfax, VA
Diana Jeffery, Ph.D., Defense Health Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, TRICARE Management Activity, Falls Church, VA
Benedict Diniega, M.D., Clinical & Program Policy (C&PP), Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, Falls Church, VA
Purpose: Little research has examined the experiences of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) military members as a result of the “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” (DADT) policy. Research on LGB civilians has shown the stress of hiding one's sexual identity may increase the likelihood of psychological problems. With the recent repeal of DADT, this study aimed to 1) identify the percentage of LGB personnel, and 2) investigate whether or not LGB service members were at increased risk for mental health problems or substance use. Methods: The 2011 Health Related Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Military Personnel, sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), was an anonymous online survey. The survey was completed by 5,461 USCG active duty personnel and represents the first time personnel were asked to identify their sexual orientation. Results: Approximately 3.1% of USCG personnel identified as LGB (10.3% of females and 1.9% of males). After controlling for demographics, LGB service members were more likely to report heavy drinking (OR=2.5, 95%CI=1.5-4.0), high anxiety symptoms (OR=2.0, 95%CI=1.3-3.1), high depression symptoms (OR=2.1, 95%CI=1.2-3.7), and suicide ideation since joining the USCG (OR=3.4, 95%CI=2.1-5.7). The analyses found no differences between LGB and heterosexual members in cigarette smoking, posttraumatic stress symptoms, high resilience level, high positive affect, or experiencing sexual abuse. Conclusion: The overall percentage of LGB personnel was comparable to civilian estimates. Findings indicated LGB personnel were at greater risk for some mental health issues and may need additional support, but the lack of differences on a number of measures was encouraging.

Learning Areas:

Advocacy for health and health education

Learning Objectives:
Identify the percentage of U.S. Coast Guard active duty personnel that identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual. Evaluate differences in mental health and substance use between LGB and heterosexual service members.

Keyword(s): Mental Health, Substance Abuse

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been principal investigator or project manager for multiple projects on military behavioral health or gender/sexuality.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.