Marginalization and stigmatization heighten the vulnerability of sexual minorities to inequitable mental health outcomes. There is a dearth of information regarding stigma and mental health among men who have sex with men (MSM) in India. We adapted Meyer’s minority stress model to explore associations between stigma and depression among MSM in South India. The study objective was to examine the influence of sexual stigma, gender non-conformity stigma (GNS) and HIV-related stigma (HIV-S) on depression among MSM in South India. A cross-sectional survey was administered to MSM in urban (Chennai) (n=100) and semi-urban (Kumbakonam) (n=100) locations in Tamil Nadu. The majority of participants reported moderate/severe depression scores. Participants in Chennai reported significantly higher levels of GNS, social support and resilient coping, and lower levels of HIV-S and depression, than participants in Kumbakonam. Hierarchical block regression analyses were conducted to measure associations between independent (GNS, HIV-S), moderator (social support, resilient coping) and dependent (depression) variables. Sexual stigma was not included in regression analyses due to multicollinearity with GNS. The first regression analyses assessed associations between depression and stigma subtypes. In Chennai, perceived GNS was associated with depression; in Kumbakonam enacted/perceived GNS and vicarious HIV-S were associated with depression. In the moderation analyses, overall GNS and HIV-S scores (subtypes combined) accounted for a significant amount of variability in depression in both locations, although HIV-S was only a significant predictor in Kumbakonam. Social support and resilient coping were associated with lower depression but did not moderate the influence of HIV-S or GNS on depression. Differences in stigma, coping, social support and depression between locations highlight the salience of considering geographical context in stigma analyses. Associations between HIV-S and depression among HIV-negative MSM emphasize the significance of symbolic stigma. Findings may inform multi-level stigma reduction and health promotion interventions with MSM in South India.
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