Can Marriage Inequality Make You Depressed?

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By Dr. Jami Wilder

In the very near future, the United States Supreme Court will issue rulings in the two cases focused on marriage equality for same-sex couples. As the Court weighs evidence and considers several possible outcomes, there has been much speculation about the impact of those possible outcomes. The landscape of marriage rights may change dramatically for some of us; for others, it may remain quite stagnant.

While we wait with bated breath for SCOTUS to hand down the rulings, we are learning more and more about the impact of marriage inequality. Beyond lack of access to the numerous rights protections of legal marriage, researchers are finding that LGBTQ people are at higher risk for mental health issues as a result of living in an environment of inequity.

Some recent studies show:

  • An overall significant increase in psychiatric disorders among the LGB populations living in states where marriage bans have been enacted (Hatzenbuehler et al., 2010).
    • Mood disorders increased more than 30%. This was not the case for heterosexual respondents in the same areas or in LGB respondents who lived in states without marriage bans.
    • Alcohol use disorders also increased significantly in LGB participants living in states with bans.
    • Generalized Anxiety Disorder increased 200% in LGB individuals living in states with the bans.

Laws limiting and prohibiting marriage of LGBTQ couples are institutional discrimination. They perpetuate and reinforce a climate that stigmatizes and separates minority groups from majority culture. The pervasive support for this legal discrimination solidifies the stereotypes and beliefs that fuel prejudice. Time and again, researchers continue to highlights the impact of discrimination on minority groups. High stress, excessive worry and fear, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse have been linked to the institutional discrimination.

The bottom line is that discrimination is a major contributor to emotional and psychological distress. It is poison undermining the fundamental drive of us all to move toward wellness. You cannot expect people to thrive in a culture that actively strips fundamental rights and respect from them.

Let’s hope the justices of SCOTUS are taking this into account.

Jami Wilder, Psy.D, is co-owner of Wilder Therapy and Wellness in Cranston, RI. She is also a postdoctoral fellow at RWU Counseling Center.

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