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Anxiety disorders, gender nonconformity, bullying and self-esteem in sexual minority adolescents: prospective birth cohort study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abbeygail Jones, Emily Robinson, Olakunle Oginni, Qazi Rahman, Katharine A. Rimes

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1201-1209
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number11
Early online date1 Jun 2017
Accepted/In press2 May 2017
E-pub ahead of print1 Jun 2017
PublishedNov 2017


King's Authors


BACKGROUND: Sexual minority adolescents (i.e. youth not exclusively heterosexual) report more anxiety than heterosexual youth on symptom questionnaires but no research has used standardised diagnostic tools to investigate anxiety disorder risk. This study uses a UK birth cohort to investigate the risk of anxiety disorders in sexual minority and heterosexual youth using a computerised structured clinical interview and explores the influence of gender nonconformity, bullying and self-esteem.

METHODS: Participants were 4,564 adolescents (2,567 girls and 1,996 boys) from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Logistic regression analyses were performed to investigate the association between sexual orientation at 15.5 years and the presence of an anxiety disorder at 17.5 years. Covariates including maternal occupation, ethnicity, mother-reported childhood gender nonconformity at 30, 42 and 57 months, child-reported gender nonconformity at 8 years, child-reported bullying between 12 and 16 years and self-esteem at 17.5 years were added sequentially to regression models.

RESULTS: Sexual minority adolescents (i.e. those not exclusively heterosexual) had higher early childhood gender nonconformity (CGN), lower self-esteem and reported more bullying than adolescents identifying as 100% heterosexual. Minority sexual orientation at 15.5 years was associated with increased risk of an anxiety disorder at 17.5 years for girls (OR 2.55, CI 1.85-3.52) and boys (OR 2.48, CI 1.40-4.39). Adjusting for ethnicity, maternal occupation, mother-reported and child-reported CGN had minimal impact on this association. Adjusting for bullying between 12 and 16 years and self-esteem at 17.5 years reduced the strength of the associations, although the overall association remained significant for both sexes (girls OR 2.14 and boys OR 1.93).

CONCLUSIONS: Sexual minority youth are at increased risk of anxiety disorders relative to heterosexual youth at 17.5 years. Bullying between 12-16 years and lower self-esteem may contribute to this risk.

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