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Drugs, smoking, alcohol and suicide: Gay and bisexual men's health report

British health services are failing gay and bisexual men who are more likely to use drugs, smoke, self-harm and attempt suicide says Stonewall report
The Stonewall report highlights major health inequalities for gay and bisexual men in Britain.

Gay and bisexual men are more likely to smoke, drink, take drugs, self-harm, attempt suicide and be depressed – but they’re often overlooked by health services.

That’s the damning verdict of a survey by Stonewall into the health of gay and bisexual men in Britain – the biggest study of it’s kind in the world.

Their report out today (25 April) found that 3% of gay men and 5% of bisexual men have attempted suicide in the last year alone – by comparison to just 0.4% of men in general.

And 6% of gay and bisexual men aged 16 to 24 have tried to kill themselves in the last year. That’s six times more than the average for men in that age range.

The study showed that half of gay and bisexual men have been the victim of domestic abuse by a family member or partner since the age of 16 – around three times more than men in general.

It also indicates gay and bi men drink alcohol more and are more likely to smoke than straights. And half of them have taken illegal drugs in the last year – four times more than the average for men.

Positively, gays and bisexuals are much less likely to be overweight or obese than other British men. But only a quarter take enough exercise and many worry about how they look with a higher proportion struggling with eating disorders.

Despite all this, gay and bisexual men are often overlooked by health services and health information messages, including around cancer, often don’t get through to them.

Worse still, a third of the gay and bisexual men surveyed, who had used healthcare services in the last year had a ‘negative experience related to their sexual orientation’.

And although it can help with diagnosis and treatment, gay men are more likely to be out to their friends, family, work colleagues and manager than to their doctor.

Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill said: ‘This deeply troubling report provides hard evidence that Britain’s 1.8 million gay and bisexual men are being let down by health services which often see homosexuality and bisexuality purely as sexual health issues.

‘As a result hundreds of thousands of gay and bisexual men are in dire need of better support from health professionals. This landmark report makes a number of recommendations that could help health services improve before more lives are ruined.’

Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) only has patchy monitoring of LGBT health issues and policy on sexual-orientation discrimination are not universal.

But a Department of Health spokesperson told Gay Star News: ‘All patients, irrespective of their sexual orientation, should expect the best care on the NHS. Anything less is unacceptable.

‘That's why lesbian, gay and bisexual people are prioritized in our Mental Health Strategy as we recognize they are at a higher risk of mental health problems, violence and self-harm.

‘General Medical Council guidance states that doctors must not discriminate against patients and their personal information must be held in confidence. The latest GP Patient Survey shows that 84% of gay, lesbian and bisexual respondents described their overall experience of their GP surgery as good.’

But despite the official’s reassurance, Stonewall’s report summarizes that there are ‘serious concerns’ about gay and bisexual men’s health and a ‘stark message’ that health bosses need to rethink how they deal with gay patients.

It recommends more training, better policies, tighter monitoring and more work to understand gay and bisexual men’s health needs, tell them what they need to know and help them access health services.

You can download the full Stonewall report here.

Stonewall produced a report on lesbian and bisexual women’s health in Britain in 2008 showing similar problems around substance abuse, sexual health, mental health, cancer and discrimination in healthcare.

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