Increased depressive and anxiety symptoms in non-heterosexual individuals: Moderation by childhood factors using a twin design

Olakunle Oginni*, Katarina Alanko, Patrik Jern, Frühling Rijsdijk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Evidence indicates that minority stress does not sufficiently explain mental health disparities in non-heterosexual compared to heterosexual individuals. We investigated alternative mechanisms whereby childhood factors (childhood gender nonconformity, early-life adversities and parent-child interactions) moderate the relationships between sexual orientation and depressive and anxiety symptoms.

Methods: The sample comprised twin pairs from the Finnish Genetics of Sexuality and Aggression cohort (n = 3166 individuals, mean age = 37.5 ± 2.93 years). Twin analyses using structural equation modelling was performed in OpenMx. Specifically, we tested whether childhood factors differentially moderated the underlying genetic and environmental influences on the relationships between sexual orientation, and depressive and anxiety symptoms.

Results: The associations between non-heterosexuality, and depressive and anxiety symptoms (r = 0.09, 0.10 respectively) were significantly influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. The genetic influences explaining the relationships of sexual orientation with depressive and anxiety symptoms were maximal at high levels of childhood gender nonconformity (βA = 0.09 and 0.11 respectively) whereas the individual-specific environmental influences on these relationships were maximal at lower levels of childhood gender nonconformity (βE = -0.10).

Limitations: Childhood factors were assessed retrospectively in a cross-sectional design.

Conclusions: Childhood gender nonconformity is associated with increased genetic and decreased individual-specific environmental influences on mental health among non-heterosexual individuals. Childhood gender nonconformity may, thus, enhance genetic risk and non-genetic protective processes for depressive and anxiety symptoms among non-heterosexual individuals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)508-516
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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