December 29, 2008
Family Rejection Of Gay Teens May Increase Health Risks
Researchers reported new findings on Monday that suggest a correlation between family rejection of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) teens and their health.
LGB children whose parents respond negatively toward them have a higher risk of developing serious health problems, such as depression, illegal drug use, risk for HIV infection, and suicide attempts, according to lead author Caitlin Ryan, Director of the Family Acceptance Project.
"Parents love their children and want the best for them," said Ryan. "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."
Ryan and her colleagues interviewed 53 families with gay teenagers to identify 106 specific behaviors as "accepting" or "rejecting."
The team then surveyed 224 white and Latino gay people between ages 21 and 25 to see which of the behaviors they had experienced growing up.
Researchers noted that LGB adolescents whose family members reject them based on their sexuality have 8.4 times the risk of having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse, compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.
Latino males reported the highest number of negative family reactions to their sexual orientation in adolescence.
"This study clearly shows the tremendous harm of family rejection, even if parents think they are well-intentioned, following deeply held beliefs or even protecting their children," said Sten Vermund, a pediatrician and Amos Christie Chair of Global Health at Vanderbilt University.
"Given the ongoing HIV epidemic in America, in which half of all new cases of HIV are found in men who have sex with men and there is growing concern about prevention messages reaching young people, it is vital that we share these findings with parents and service providers who work with youth in every way," Vermund added.
Researchers found that parents who made efforts to treat their LGB child more acceptingly, can dramatically improve their mental health outlook.
Such conversations are necessary because young people have been coming out at younger ages, Ryan said.
Ryan recommends that medical professionals ask young patients how their families have reacted to their sexual orientations and tell parents that negative reactions may prove harmful even if well-intentioned.
"When put to practical, day-to-day use and shared with families and those who serve LGBT youth, these findings will lead to healthier, more supportive family dynamics and better lives for LGBT young people."
Ryan said that parents fail to realize there's more than a sexual connection between LGB adolescents and adults.
"When providers and adults and family members think of gay people, they think of sex. They don't think of emotional attraction or social interaction or spiritual connectedness or deep-rooted psychological feelings," she said.
On the Net:
- Family Acceptance Project
- San Francisco State University
- Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics