Research Spotlight: Comparing the Mental Health of LGB and Heterosexual Intimate Partner Violence Victims

By Dr. Byron Miller

In short, what is the study about?

Using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), we investigated whether the mental health (depression and anxiety) of persons in LGB+ partnerships were more likely to be adversely affected by intimate partner violence (IPV) than those in heterosexual relationships. We then examined the extent to which the observed differences were explained by the victims’ perceptions of having an emotionally supportive social network.

What would be the most important take-home messages from the study?

The findings of our study indicate that individuals in LBG+ partnerships are just as likely to be victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) as their heterosexual counterparts. However, LGB+ victims of IPV are 70% more likely to have a lifetime history of depression and 60% more likely to have a history of anxiety than heterosexual victims. We discover that about 7% of the differences in risk of depression and anxiety between LBG+ and heterosexual IPV victims is explained by the lack of emotional support from family and friends perceived by LGB+ victims.

How are these findings important in practice?

Our findings demonstrate that women and men in LGB+ partnerships that are victims of intimate partner violence face a greater risk of having mental health issues than their heterosexual counterparts. However, research has often overlooked victims in the LGB+ community and our study highlights the need for a greater inclusion of LGB victims in the IPV literature. Discussing different experiences within all types of relationships, irrespective of sexual orientation, should be acknowledged to work toward a more socially inclusive and appropriate discourse about the issue of intimate partner violence. Such a discussion must inform policy makers that, although the prevalence of IPV is similar for LGB and heterosexual victims, not all scars are visible and we find that the mental health consequences are significantly worse for LGB victims.

LGB victims of intimate partner violence is more exposed to mental health issues

Although people in LGB relationships are equally exposed to intimate partner violence compared to their heterosexual counterparts, they are more likely to suffer from mental health issues, partly because of inadequate resources and emotional support

IPV victims have reported that their mental health improves after spending time in a shelter, which suggests that more institutional and community-based resources are needed to improve and/or protect the mental health of all IPV victims, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Our finding further supports this position that differences in emotional support partially explain the greater risk of depression and anxiety found among LGB+ victims. Other studies have found that crisis center staffs perceive IPV altercations between LGB couples as less severe and less likely to recur than those in heterosexual relationships. Therefore, increasing the resources available for LGB victims of intimate partner violence may have little effect on improving their mental and social wellbeing without properly training health care professionals to administer assistance specifically to the LGB community.

What other studies can be recommended to further an understanding/application of the findings?

Future research using multiple measures of social support may provide a better understanding of how support influences the association between sexual orientation and mental health among IPV victims. References for additional readings are listed below.


Blosnich, J. R., & Bossarte, R. M. (2009). Comparisons of intimate partner violence among partners in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships in the United States. American  Journal of Public Health, 99, 2182–2184. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2008.139535
Brown, M. J., & Groscup, J. (2009). Perceptions of same-sex domestic violence among crisis center staff. Journal of Family Violence, 24, 87–93. doi:10.1007/s10896-008-9212-5
Sprague, S., & Oliff, M. (2014). Intimate partner violence and mental health. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 5, 1–2. doi:10.3402/ejpt.v5.25580

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Latest update: March 25, 2017
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