February 17, 2014
A recent study published in Social Science & Medicine found that LGB individuals living in communities with higher levels of prejudice died 12 years sooner, on average, than those living in low-prejudice communities. Community prejudice was measured by General Social Survey (GSS) data from 1988 through 2008. The study’s lead author, Dr. Mark Hatzenbuehler, PhD, noted:
"Our findings indicate that sexual minorities living in communities with higher levels of prejudice die sooner than sexual minorities living in low-prejudice communities, and that these effects are independent of established risk factors for mortality, including household income, education, gender, ethnicity, and age, as well as the average income and education level of residents in the communities where the respondents lived,"
The study found that suicide, homicide/violence, and cardiovascular diseases were more prevalent among LGB individuals in the high prejudice communities than among those in the lower prejudice communities. Homicide and violent crime may be the strongest connection between prejudicial attitudes and mortality, and this study found that LGB individuals were three times as likely to die by homicide in the high prejudice communities.
An appropriate question is, what does this mean in terms of prejudice against those with mental illness? Is there anything that can be extrapolated from this study and applied to mental illness stigma? The answer to those questions is likely a resounding yes. This research studied the connection between prejudice and mortality. It stands to reason that this very well could apply to any form of prejudice, whether it be sexual orientation prejudice, racial prejudice, ethnic prejudice, or prejudice directed towards those with mental illness.
Of course, “it stands to reason” is another way of saying “I think this is true but I don’t have any proof yet.” And therein lies the rub. Would it be possible to replicate this study for prejudice against people with mental health conditions? This study compared LGB individuals living in communities where sexual orientation prejudice was high with individuals living in communities where this prejudice was low. The GSS has found that prejudice against those with mental illness is very high throughout the nation. It is fair to ask, are there any communities in the U.S. where prejudice against people with mental illness is low?
Do you believe that there are any communities that could be described as "low prejudice" when it comes to attitudes about people with mental illness?