Social Support Utilization Among Michigan LGB Women


Social support and social networks are particularly important for lesbian/gay and bisexual (LGB) women in light of the disproportionate rates of depression and anxiety affecting these populations.  The disparate prevalence of these psychological outcomes, including internalized homophobia, has been linked to sexual minority stress models. These models have emerged as a means of exploring how external social conditions and structures, as well as internal psychological processes, relate to the mental health of LGB women.  These external forces include sexuality-based discrimination that LGBTQ populations experience at different levels, from the interpersonal level to the level of policy and law.  Furthermore, repeated exposure to this type of discrimination may lead to internalized homophobia, or the internalization, acceptance, and even justification of these negative experiences by LGBTQ individuals themselves.

Current research tends to focus solely on these “risk factors” without much regard for the role of protective factors on social and psychological well-being.  This presentation, given at the 2013 American Public Health Association annual conference, thus focused on an assets-based approach for examining how LGB women rely on and enact existing psychosocial resources.  These psychological resources include parent and peer support as well as two different types of LGBTQ community involvement (connectedness and participation).  Connectedness refers to feelings of belongingness while participation refers to attendance at LGBTQ community spaces and/or events.

The study included a sample of LGB women between the ages of 18-24 who were residing in Michigan.  The women responded to an on-line survey and answered a variety of questions regarding their mental health and different types of social support.  We examined the relationship between four different sources support and both depression and anxiety.  We also examined the role of internalized homophobia in this relationship.

As expected, having internalized homophobia was related to having higher levels of anxiety and depression among this group of LGB women.  Surprisingly, peer support and both LGBTQ community connectedness and participation were not related with internalized homophobia nor with depression and anxiety.  Having family support, however, was related with lower levels of internalized homophobia.  According to these findings, parents may still play a critical role in the mental health of young adult women.  As seen in other research, we also found that women who identified as bisexual had lower levels of LGBTQ community connectedness and participation and higher levels of internalized homophobia and depression.

The results from this study highlight the important role that parents play even among a population of young adults that have already established some independence from their parents.  Although parent support was highly associated with internalized homophobia, a marker of sexual minority stress, parents of LGBTQ children have largely been excluded from LGBTQ-related research.  It may be important to further explore the experiences of such parents as they learn about their child’s sexual identity, especially when a disclosure of sexual identity leads to discord in the parent-child relationship.  The results also highlight a need to focus on the experiences leading to higher levels of internalized homophobia among bisexual women, which suggests that bisexual women may be experiencing sexuality-based discrimination within LGBTQ spaces as well if they are also reporting lower levels of LGBTQ community connectedness and participation.  In addition to focusing on the creation of “LGBTQ-friendly” spaces and policies, it may be important to deliberately address a need for bisexual-friendly environments as well.

Contributing authors: Michelle M. Johns, MPH; Emily J. Youatt, MPH; Emily S. Pingel, MPH; Gary W. Harper, MPH, PhD; José A. Bauermeister, MPH, PhD

Downloadable presentation: soler_apha2013.pdf


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