June 14, 2024

March 20, 2024 – During pregnancy, sexual minority women (SMW) are 50% more likely to experience stress and depression, and are more likely to use antidepressants, compared to their heterosexual counterparts, according to a new study.

Researchers also found that SMW—those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or another sexual minority identity, or have romantic attractions to women, or have women partners—are less likely during the postpartum period to use antidepressants until their symptoms become severe.

The study was published online February 5 in SSM-Mental Health. It was one of the first studies to document perinatal mental health outcomes across sexual orientation groups in a national sample, drawing on data from 6,364 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study 3 who filled out questionnaires during pregnancy and postpartum.

Co-authors included faculty from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health as well as several members of Harvard SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression) Health Equity Research Collaborative, a partnership that brings together more than 125 LGBTQ health researchers from across Harvard.

Harvard Chan School co-authors of the study included co-first authors Kodiak Soled and Sarah McKetta as well as Payal Chakraborty, Colleen Reynolds, S. Bryn Austin, Jorge Chavarro, A. Heather Eliassen, Sebastian Haneuse, and Brittany Charlton, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and co-director of Harvard SOGIE.

The study is one of several recent papers co-authored by Harvard Chan School and Harvard SOGIE researchers on health disparities faced by LGBTQ individuals.

A recent study led by Chakraborty, a postdoctoral fellow, found that compared to cisgender, heterosexual women, SMW are 21% more likely to develop gestational hypertension. Another study, led by postdoctoral fellow Aimee Huang, mapped the scientific literature on obstetrical and perinatal health among LGBTQ birthing people and their infants, with the goal of helping inform clinical guidelines on perinatal care and providing directions for future research.

As the nation marks National LGBTQ Health Awareness Week (March 18–22)—and as anti-LGBTQ sentiment in the U.S. is on the rise, from bullying to anti-LGBTQ legislation—ongoing research is crucial, Charlton said.

“Structural factors rooted in homophobia and transphobia underlie health inequities faced by LGBTQ individuals, subjecting them to unique forms of stigma and discrimination that adversely impact their health,” she noted. Research can help by suggesting innovative interventions focused on better care and better provider training, she said.

Read the study: Sexual orientation-related disparities in perinatal mental health among a prospective cohort study

Learn more

Accelerating LGBTQ health research during a ‘tumultuous year’ (Harvard Chan School news)

Photo: iStock/ImageegamI


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