Social Support Networks for LGBT Young Adults: Low Cost Strategies for Positive Adjustment

By Snapp, Shannon D.; Watson, Ryan J. et al. | Family Relations, July 2015 | Go to article overview

Social Support Networks for LGBT Young Adults: Low Cost Strategies for Positive Adjustment


Snapp, Shannon D., Watson, Ryan J., Russell, Stephen T., Diaz, Rafael M., Ryan, Caitlin, Family Relations


Prior studies have clearly established physical and mental health disparities for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth and adults (physical health may include but is not limited to weight, chronic health concerns, sexual risk taking, and substance use; mental health may include but is not limited to psychological concerns, diagnosed disorders, and suicidality; Conron, Mimiaga, & Landers, 2010; Institute of Medicine, 2011; Ryan, Huebner, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2009; Ryan, Russell, Huebner, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2010). However, less is known about positive development for LGBT young people. Several existing studies have documented a positive association between family acceptance and well-being for LGBT youth (Doty & Brian, 2010; Elizur & Ziv, 2001; Shilo & Savaya, 2011); fewer have examined the implications of family acceptance beyond the teenage years (Rosario, Schrimshaw, & Hunter, 2009) or in conjunction with other salient forms of social support. As youth move from adolescence into young adulthood they are likely to encounter additional supports from friends, peers, and their community which may enable their positive adjustment. This support may operate as general support or it may be sexuality-related social support, a term used to describe social support that is specific to young people's sexuality-related stress and life experiences (Doty, Willoughby, Lindahl, & Malik, 2010). In the present study we aimed to understand how family acceptance, along with additional forms of sexuality-related social support, may predict healthy adjustment in young adulthood.

We approached this research from the foundations of the minority stress model (Meyer, 2003). This framework suggests that the established negative relation between minority stressors (e.g., harassment due to sexual orientation, internalized homophobia) and mental health can in part be buffered by coping mechanisms. For example, interpersonal relationships (e.g., supportive parents), policies (e.g., anti-discrimination school codes), and organizations (e.g., LGBT clubs, gay-straight alliance networks) might provide protections against the deleterious effects of minority-specific pressures. Protective factors may attenuate the effect of stressors on the negative health outcomes for LGBT persons. In this study we conceptualized support from family, friends, and the community as potential coping mechanisms, and thus protective factors, for LGBT young adults.

Family Acceptance and LGBT Youth and Young Adults

When LGBT teenagers disclose their sexual and/or gender identities (a process known as "coming out") they may face a range of responses that either affirm or reject their identities (D'Augelli, Grossman, & Starks, 2005). LGBT young adults who reported high levels of parental rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, and 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs and to engage in risky sexual behavior compared with peers from families who reported no or low levels of family rejection (Ryan et al., 2009). Similarly, lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) adults who thought their parents did not provide emotional and social support after they disclosed their sexual orientation had higher odds of depression and substance use (Rothman, Sullivan, Keyes, & Boehmer, 2012).

In contrast, perceived acceptance from family and friends buffers the negative impact of perceived rejection on youths' subsequent alcohol use (Rosario et al., 2009). In a study with 461 LGB adolescents and young adults in the United States, family acceptance and support had a significant positive effect on one's self-acceptance of sexual orientation, the strongest (as compared to friend support) positive effect on well-being, and the strongest negative effect on mental distress (Shilo & Savaya, 2011). Finally, a study of 245 LGBT young adults in the United States (Ryan et al. …

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