Effects of Family and Friend Support on LGB Youths' Mental Health and Sexual Orientation Milestones

Article excerpt

This study examined the effects of social support components and providers on mental health and sexual orientation (SO) milestones of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youths. Data were collected on 461 self-identified LGB adolescents and young adults. Family acceptance and support yielded the strongest positive effect on self-acceptance of SO, whereas friends' support and acceptance yielded the strongest positive effect on disclosure of SO. Family support had the strongest negative effect on youth's mental distress, whereas friends' and family support had the strongest positive effect on well-being. These findings highlight the importance of the daily perceptions of LGB youth within social and familial settings, indicating that both positive and negative aspects of support affect youths' mental health and identity development.

Key Words: family support, family undermining, friend support, identity development, mental health, sexual minority youth.

Study on sexual minority youths during the past 20 years has documented serious mental health disparities between lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youths and their heterosexual counterparts (D'Augelli, 2006; Ryan, Huebner, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2009). These include higher rates of mental distress, suicide ideation, victimization, and substance abuse as a result of the social stigma and negative societal responses (e.g., Bradford, Ryan, & Rothblum, 1994; D'Augelli; Gibson, 1994; Hershberger & D'Augelli, 1999). Although LGB youths today disclose their sexual orientation (SO) in growing numbers and at earlier ages than previously (Herdt & Boxer, 1993; Savin-Williams, 2005), surprisingly little research has examined the effects of family and peer support on their mental health. Furthermore, although literature on SO formation and experiences of sexual minority youth emphasize the substantial effect of social support on mental health (D'Augelli; Ryan et al.), little attention has been paid to the different aspects of such support. The current study tries to fill this gap by investigating the differential effects of social support and social acceptance by family and heterosexual friends on LGB adolescents' and young adults' acceptance and disclosure of their SO and their mental health.

SOCIAL SUPPORT IN THE LIVES OF SEXUAL MINORITY YOUTH

Recent studies have linked minority stress, defined as stress caused to socially disadvantaged groups by their experience and internalization of victimization and negative life events, with negative mental health outcomes among LGB adults (Meyer, 2003). On the basis of social stress theory (Dressier, Oths, & Gravlee, 2005; Pearlin, 1989), minority stress theory maintains that both distal stressors (reflecting the degree of heterosexism in the environment) as well as proximal stressors (expectations of rejection, hiding SO from others, and internalization of societal heterosexist attitudes) affect sexual minorities' mental health (Meyer, 2003, 2007). The theory also maintains that the impact of these stressors can be alleviated by the coping resources available to the LGB individual (Meyer, 2003). Testing the minority stress model, Meyer (2003, 2007) found social support to be a source of strength for LGB adults, buffering the impact of minority stress stemming from their SO. Yet, although social support may be a source of strength for LGB adults, it may be a source of stress to LGB youths, who are in the process of consolidating their SO (D'Augelli, 2006). Life experiences and SO development of LGB youth are often characterized by efforts to seek personal and social affirmation of their identity (Cass, 1996; D'Augelli). The consolidation of their SO, manifested in developmental milestones such as self-acceptance of SO and disclosing it to significant others, reflects LGB youths' psychological adjustment to their identity (Elizur & Mintzer, 2001; Savin- Williams, 2005). The fact that sexual minority youth contend with victimization in homophobic environments makes social support a key factor in this process, affecting both their mental health and self-acceptance (Anderson, 1998; Elizur & Mintzer; Floyd, Stein, Harter, Allison, & Nye, 1999; Vincke & Van-Heeringen, 2004). …