Story at a glance

  • A new study on mental health in gay men and lesbian women was released at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting this week.
  • The study found that consistent parental support, whether positive or negative, was critical for better mental health for people who identify as homosexual.
  • The study marked a shift from previous research findings on the effects of family acceptance on LGBTQ+ mental health.

A new study released this week at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting found that consistent parental support, whether positive or negative, was critical for better mental health for lesbians and gay men.

Based upon the subjects’ initial responses, they were split into three groups: subjects whose parents reacted consistently positively, subjects whose parents reacted consistently negatively and subjects whose parents shifted from a negative to a positive reaction.

Once split into groups, subjects were then given two mental health questionnaires: the general anxiety disorder-7 questionnaire and the patient health questionnaire.


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Subjects who received either consistently positive support or consistently negative support reported having “mild anxiety,” whereas subjects whose parents shifted from a negative to a positive reaction to their sexual orientation reported “moderate anxiety.”

The second questionnaire, which addressed levels of depression, found subjects with a consistent reaction reported “mild depression,” and subjects whose parents shifted from negative to positive support recorded “moderate depression.”

“In coming out, we learn how to cultivate meaningful relationships and navigate across social context,” said Matthew Verdun, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate in applied clinical psychology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. “Who are safe people to come out to? How do I identify the people who are going to accept all of me, including my orientation?”

“If a parent goes from being unsupportive to supportive, are they abandoning some of their relationships that may still be unhealthy?” Verdun told NBC. “Are they part of a faith tradition that rejects their child or says they’re an abomination? If the parent comes around but doesn’t shift out of that belief system, that’s going to affect their child.” 

Most previous research has seen negative responses from one’s family coinciding with higher rates of mental health issues. A 2010 study cited that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young adults who faced lower levels of family acceptance were three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

However, Verdun stated that studies evaluate one specific moment, typically when subjects have just come out to their family, whereas this study analyzed these relationships over a period of time.

“I wanted to know what happens over time,” he said.

The hope, Verdun said, is that the study’s analysis can be utilized by mental health professionals treating LGBTQ+ patients and their families, and that it is not an assertion that negatively reacting to your child’s sexual orientation is healthy or helpful. 

“If I was talking to parents,” Verdun said, “I’d say supporting your child is key.”


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Published on May 07, 2021