The role that a family plays in maintaining an individual's good health has been well documented. Now researchers at San Francisco State University have further illustrated this point by bringing to light the negative health impacts that family rejection brings to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adolescents in their early adulthood.
The study, conducted by Caitlin Ryan, PhD, Director of the Family Acceptance Project and her team at the César E. Chávez Institute at San Francisco State University, has shown that negative parental behaviors toward LGBT children dramatically compromises their health.
The new findings have far reaching implications for changing how families relate to their LGBT children and how a wide range of providers serve LGBT youth across systems of care.
"For the first time, research has established a predictive link between specific, negative family reactions to their child's sexual orientation and serious health problems for these adolescents in young adulthood such as depression, illegal drug use, risk for HIV infection, and suicide attempts," said Ryan, who is the lead author of the paper.
"The new body of research we are generating will help develop resources, tools and interventions to strengthen families, prevent homelessness, reduce the proportion of youth in foster care and significantly improve the lives of LGBT young people and their families."
During the study, the researchers found that higher rates of family rejection during adolescence were significantly associated with poorer health outcomes for LGBT young adults.
LGBT young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report 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.
Sten Vermund, MD, a pediatrician and Amos Christie Chair of Global Health at Vanderbilt University, said: "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."
"In today's often hostile climate for LGBT youth, it is especially important to note that both mental health issues like depression and suicide and HIV risk behaviors were greatly increased by rejection.
"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.
"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," Vermund added.
The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.