Publication Date

2009-06-09

Availability

Open access

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Department

Psychology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense

2009-02-26

First Committee Member

Annette La Greca - Committee Member

Second Committee Member

Michael Alessandri - Committee Member

Third Committee Member

Kristin Lindahl - Mentor

Fourth Committee Member

Neena Malik - Mentor

Fifth Committee Member

Robert Johnson - Outside Committee Member

Abstract

Supportive relationships with parents and peers are thought to be important in helping gay, lesbian, bisexual, or questioning youth cope with stressors related to their sexual identity. However, studies of same-sex attracted youth have yielded only minimal evidence for the link between social support and mental health. The lack of empirical findings may relate to inadequate measurement of the types of social support most relevant for same-sex attracted youth. Using matching theory as a theoretical framework, the present study examined same-sex attracted youth's perceptions of support for coping with problems specifically related to their sexuality. Ninety-eight same-sex attracted young people ages 18-21 were asked about support from family members, heterosexual friends, and sexual minority friends for dealing with problems related to, and not related to, their sexuality. Sexuality related life stressors, substance use severity, and symptoms of emotional distress were also assessed. A within-subject factorial ANOVA revealed differences between sexuality related support and non-sexuality related support across the three relationship types. From family members and heterosexual peers, participants perceived sexuality related support as less available than support for problems not related to sexuality. Non-heterosexual peers provided the highest levels of sexuality related support, and were seen as equally supportive across sexuality related and non-sexuality related domains. Linear regression analyses examined the roles of sexuality related and non-sexuality related support in predicting two mental health outcomes: emotional distress and substance use severity. Contrary to expectations, main effects for sexuality related support and non-sexuality related support did not predict emotional distress. Tests of "buffering" models revealed participants' overall perceptions of sexuality related support moderated the relationship between sexuality stress and psychological distress, such that higher levels of sexuality related support may have been protective. Perceptions of non-sexuality related support, on the other hand, did not moderate links between sexuality stress and emotional distress. Neither main effect nor buffering models were significant in predicting substance use severity. Results of this study provide important information about the types of social support most relevant to same-sex attracted youth.

Keywords

Coping; Resilience

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