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Study: Family Behavior Key to Health of Gay Youth

Study: Family Behavior Key to Health of Gay Youth

Lisa Leff / AP

December 30, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO – Young gay people whose parents or guardians responded negatively when they revealed their sexual orientation were more likely to attempt suicide, experience severe depression and use drugs than those whose families accepted the news, according to a new study.

The way in which parents or guardians respond to a youth’s sexual orientation profoundly influences the child’s mental health as an adult, say researchers at San Francisco State University, whose findings appear in Monday’s journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Parents love their children and want the best for them,” said lead researcher Caitlin Ryan, a social worker who directs the university’s Family Acceptance Project. “Now that we have measured all these behaviors, we can see that some of them put youth at extremely high risk and others are wellness-promoting.”

Among other findings, the study showed that teens who experienced negative feedback were more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide, nearly six times as vulnerable to severe depression and more than three times at risk of drug use.

More significantly, Ryan said, ongoing work at San Francisco State suggests that parents who take even baby steps to respond with equanimity instead of rejection can dramatically improve a gay youth’s mental health outlook.

One of the most startling findings was that being forbidden to associate with gay peers was as damaging as being physically beaten or verbally abused by their parents in terms of negative feedback, Ryan said.

In the two-part study, Ryan and her colleagues first interviewed 53 families with gay teenagers to identify 106 specific behaviors that could be considered “accepting” or “rejecting.” For example, blaming a youth for being bullied at school, shielding him from other relatives or belittling her appearance for not conforming to social expectations fell into the rejecting category.

Next, they surveyed 224 white and Latino gay people between ages 21 and 25 to see which of the behaviors they had experienced growing up. The responses then were matched against the participants’ recent histories of severe depression, suicide attempts, substance abuse and unsafe sexual behavior.

While the results might seem intuitive, Ryan said the study, funded by the California Endowment, was the first to establish a link between health problems in gay youths and their home environments.


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    smiles62

    over 5 years ago

    90 comments

    This article caught my attention. My beautiful daughter just turned 20 on christmas and she is gay.At 16 she attempted suicide because she was afraid to acknowledge her feelings. When she finally did she found out that as her MOM and mother, ILOVE her no matter what her sexual preference is. It is very hard for many in society to be NONJUDGEMENTAL. Sexual origin can feed another prejudice such as religion, politics and so on. As I grow older and wiser to show love and compassion to all as my rule to live by helps me be better than what I was raised with! When being a nurse, you find a patient in need a CPR, your not thinking, are they GAY? Did they vote for Barrack Obama? Are they baptist or jewish? For the love of God! Your going to administer CPR!! And if with any hesitation, then you really don't belong in the nursing field!!!

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    StephenAFarley

    over 5 years ago

    8 comments

    CDnurse could never understand how a parent can disown a child, but hon, it happens every single day many times over. it happened to me simply over the issue of my being gay and proud - being a good kid growing up and causing no one endless amounts of grief. I was disowned simply for being gay. Perhaps if you knew the pathology that was my mother you'd know that all that are mothers doesn't mean they are meant to be mothers.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Account Removed

    over 5 years ago

    I have to admit I would not be very happy with my children if they would come to me and admit to being bisexual or gay, but I would not disown them by any means. I used to think in a lot harsher way about it, until I found out that my twin sister is with another woman, and I just realized how important it is to me that I know that she is happy, no matter what lifestyle she chooses to live. It was a hard pill for me to swallow but I tolerate it now, even though there is a difference between tolerance and acceptance. I am not quite at the stage that I am accepting it....

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Account Removed

    over 5 years ago

    Great article, however the age old prejudices still remain, in spite of all the articles written, news stories etc. I've seen it here, with posts from supposedly educated people. I hope this article jars a few closed minds to crack open a bit

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Account Removed

    over 5 years ago

    I will never ever understand how a parent can disown a child.

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