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LGBT health outcomes are strongly influenced by social support networks, peers, and family. One example of a support network now available to some LGBT youth include Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs), which are clubs that work to improve the climate for LGBT youth at schools and educate students and staff about issues faced by the LGBT community. In order to investigate the effects of GSAs on LGBT youth, 149 college-aged students that self-identified as LGBT completed a survey that assessed their high school’s climate for LGBT youth, and their current health and alcohol dependency outcomes. Those participants who had a GSA at their high school (GSA+ youth) reported higher senses of belonging, less at-school victimization because of their sexual orientation, more favorable outcomes related to their alcohol use behaviors, and greater positive outcomes related to depression and general psychological distress when compared to those without a GSA (GSA- youth). Amongst other competing variables that contributed to these outcomes, the vast majority of schools that had a GSA were located in urban and suburban areas that tend to be safer and more accepting of LGBT people in general.

Family and social support networks also relate with mental health trajectories amongst LGBT youth. Family rejection upon a youth “coming out” sometimes results in adverse health outcomes. In fact, LGBT youth who experienced family rejection were 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide, 5.9 times more likely to experience elevated levels of depression, and 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs than those LGBT youth who were accepted by family members. Family rejection sometimes leads youth to either run away from home or be kicked out of their home, which relates to the high rate of homelessness experienced by LGBT youth. In turn, homelessness relates to an array of adverse health outcomes that sometimes stem from homeless LGBT youths’ elevated rates of involvement in prostitution and survival sex.

One longitudinal study of 248 youth across 5.5 years found that LGBT youth that have strong family and peer support experience less distress across all time points relative to those who have uniformly low family and peer support. Overtime, the psychological distress experienced by LGBT youth decreased, regardless of the amount of family and peer support that they received during adolescence. Nonetheless, the decrease in distress was greater for youth with low peer and family support than for those participants with high support. At age 17, those who lacked family support but had high peer support exhibited the highest levels of distress, but this distress level lowered to nearly the same level as those reporting high levels of support within a few years. Those LGBT youth without family support but with strong support from their peers reported an increase in family support over the years in spite of having reported the lowest family support at the age of 17.

Similarly, another study of 232 LGBT youth between the ages of 16-20 found that those with low family and social support reported higher rates of hopelessness, loneliness, depression, anxiety, somatizationsuicidality, global severity, and symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD) than those who received strong family and non-family support. In contrast, those who solely received non-family support reported worse outcomes for all measured health outcomes except for anxiety and hopelessness, for which there was no difference.

Some studies have found poorer mental health outcomes for bisexual people than gay men and lesbians, which has been attributed to some degree to this community’s lack of acceptance and validation both within and outside of the LGBT community. One qualitative study interviewed 55 bisexual people in order to identify common reasons for higher rates of mental health problems. The testimonials that were collected and organized into macro level (social structure), meso level (interpersonal), and micro level (individual) factors. At the social structure level, bisexuals noted that they were constantly asked to explain and justify their sexual orientation, and experienced biphobia and monosexism from individuals both within and outside of the LGBT community. Many also stated that their identity was repetitively degraded by others, and that they are assumed to be promiscuous and hypersexual. During dates with others that did not identify as bisexual, some sighted being attacked and rejected solely based their sexual orientation. One female bisexual participant stated that upon going on a date with a lesbian female, “...she was very anti-bisexual. She said, ‘You’re sitting on the fence. Make a choice, either you’re gay or straight’” (p. 498). Family members similarly questioned and criticized their identity. One participant recalled that his sister stated that she would prefer if her sibling were gay instead of “...this slutty person who just sleeps with everyone” (p. 498). At the personal level, many bisexual struggle to accept themselves due to society’s negative social attitudes and beliefs about bisexuality. In order to address issues of self acceptance, participants recommended embracing spirituality, exercise, the arts, and other activities that promote emotional health.

 

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