For the very first time, researchers have established a clear link between accepting familial attitudes and behaviors toward their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children and a significantly decreased risk and better overall health in adulthood.
The California Endowment funded study, “Family Acceptance in Adolescence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults,” is published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing and has successfully explored a world of study that no other researcher has yet pursued.
The study, authored by Dr. Caitlin Ryan and her team from the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, has critical implications for changing how families relate to their LGBT children and how LGBT youth are served by a wide range of providers across disciplines and systems of care, including custodial care systems such as foster care.
The study shows that specific parental and caregiver behaviors – like standing up for their children when they are mistreated because of their LGBT identity or supporting their gender expression – help to prevent depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts in early adulthood.
In addition, LGBT youth with highly accepting families have shown significantly higher levels of self-esteem and social support in young adulthood.
“At a time when the media and families are becoming acutely aware of the risk that many LGBT youth experience, our findings that family acceptance protects against suicidal thoughts and behaviors, depression and substance abuse offer a gateway to hope for LGBT youth and families that struggle with how to balance deeply held religious and personal values with love for their LGBT children,” said Dr. Caitlin Ryan, PhD, Director of the Family Acceptance Project.
“Times have changed,” said Stephen Russell, PhD, President Elect of the Society for Research on Adolescence and a consultant to the Family Acceptance Project.
“More and more families want to be accepting of their children. Yet, many families still struggle when a child comes out as LGBT. It’s essential to have research like this to deeply understand the ways that families show their acceptance, so that we can identify how to support families,” he said.
With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Dr. Ryan and her team at the Family Acceptance Project are currently developing a new evidence-based family model of wellness, prevention and care for LGBT adolescents. This model uses a behavioral approach to help ethnically and religiously diverse families decrease rejection behaviors and increase support for their LGBT children–reducing the risk for suicide, depression, substance abuse, homelessness and placement in custodial care and HIV.
This systems-level approach helps communities and providers to engage diverse families as allies in decreasing their LGBT children’s risk, increasing their well-being and while respecting the family’s deeply held values. This work is being conducted in English, Spanish and Chinese with families from all ethnic backgrounds, including immigrant and very low income families, and out-of-home children (those in foster care or juvenile justice facilities).
The existing approach to serving LGBT adolescents by pediatricians, nurses, social workers, school counselors and others has focused almost exclusively on serving LGBT youth alone and through peer support, rather than in the context of their families.
The current approach has not considered the impact of family reactions on the adolescent’s health and well-being, which, as this study shows, is proven to be a crucial element in an effective evaluation and treatment.
In addition to providing direct services for families with LGBT children and working with communities in the U.S., the Family Acceptance Project is collaborating with organizations, providers, advocates and families to develop an international movement of familial acceptance to promote wellness and healthy futures for LGBT children, youth and young adults.
Major Research Findings:
·Family accepting behaviors towards LGBT youth during adolescence protect against suicide, depression and substance abuse.
·LGBT young adults who reported high levels of family acceptance during adolescence had significantly higher levels of self-esteem, social support and general health, compared to peers with low levels of family acceptance.
·LGBT young adults who reported low levels of family rejection during adolescence were over three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and to report suicide attempts, compared to those with high levels of family acceptance.
·High religious involvement in families was strongly associated with low acceptance of LGBT children.