Sources of Social Support and Mental Health Among LGB Youth

Ryan Watson

Disparities in psychosocial adjustment have been identified for lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth, yet research that explores multiple sources of social support among subgroups of LGB youth is sparse. Most youth receive simultaneous support from several different types of interpersonal relationships. Each type of relationship (e.g., family, friend, teacher, classmate) provides distinct sources of resources and specialized support. We examined whether multiple sources of social support, in the context of perceived importance of that support, were associated with the psychosocial adjustment of LGB youth, and whether there were differences across sex and sexual identities. We measured both the importance and presence of sources of social support for LGB male and females.

Participants were 835 self-identified lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, and/or youth with same-sex attraction in three major cities in the Northeast, Southwest, and on the West Coast of the United States. Youth were recruited from community-based agencies and college groups by snowball sampling. The data came from the first of four waves in a longitudinal panel study of the risk and protective factors of suicide among sexual minority youth. We measured depression using the 20-item Beck Depression Inventory and self-esteem using 10 items of the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. In addition, we measured parent, close friend, teacher, and classmate support using the Child and Adolescent Social Support Scale.

For gay male youth, only parent support was associated with less depression. Parent and close friend support were associated with higher self-esteem for gay youth. Parent, classmate, and close friend support were related to less depression for lesbian youth, but no support sources were associated with self-esteem for lesbian youth. Among bisexual youth, parent support was associated with less depression and higher self-esteem for males. For bisexual females, close friend support was associated with less depression, and parent support was associated with higher self-esteem.

This study contributes a deeper understanding of psychosocial adjustment and the role of social support for sexual minorities by elucidating different patterns of support for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Not all sources of social support were equally important for LGB youths’ psychosocial adjustment; instead, support sources operated differently among sexual minority subgroups, which suggests that there is no monolithic approach to dealing with LGB adolescents’ adjustment at home and school.


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