Research projects

Impact of alcohol and drug use on the diagnosis and management of depression in gay men: A sub-study of the Primary Health Care Project on HIV and Depression

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Principal researchers

Dr Christy Newman


National Centre in HIV Social Research, University of New South Wales



Award type

beyondblue strategic research

Project completion year


Project brief

With funding from beyondblue, the National Centre in HIV Social Research was able to conduct further research on data from a previous study funded by NHMRC. This study had the aim of further exploring the issues associated with alcohol and drug use in data collected on depression in gay men, and developing and distributing appropriate recommendations for medical practitioners and other health professionals in relation to how alcohol and drug use might impact the diagnosis and management of depression in gay men.

The data included: a survey of over 500 male patients attending seven ‘gay-friendly’ general practices in Sydney and Adelaide; in-depth interviews with 40 of the men who, on the survey, self -identified as gay, bisexual or queer and as currently experiencing depression, and measured above 4 on the PHQ-9 screening tool for depression; in-depth interviews with 16 GPs from the seven general practices; and brief surveys of the GPs, gathering additional information on the roughly 500 male patients who completed a survey.

Secondary analysis of this data was conducted, focusing on three main areas:  alcohol and illicit drug use among gay men and its association with depression; beliefs held by doctors and their gay patients with regard to drug use, and agreement between GPs’ diagnosis of major depression and patients’ scores on a screening tool for depression.

Key findings

It was found that men who used three or more types of drugs in the previous six months were three times more likely to have major depression than other men. However, this was the only drug-use variable that was independently associated with major depression. Both doctors and their patients felt that there was a complex relationship between drug use and depression. However, while doctors’ were concerned with the health effects of drug use, patients also talked about the benefit of drug use in their lives. There was good agreement between doctors’ assessments of major depression and patients’ scores on a screening tool for depression. Three journal articles were published which summarise these key findings.

Practical outcomes

The research team sponsored a session at the Australasian HIV/AIDS Conference in Sydney in October 2010 entitled ‘Understanding and responding to alcohol and other drug use in gay men with depression in general practice: a consultation workshop’.

A four-page summary document of the key findings aimed at health care professionals involved in developing treatment and care plans for gay men with depression who have a history of drug and alcohol use was developed. 1,000 hard copies of the report were disseminated.


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