Consistency was important when it came to parental support of gay and lesbian people, a researcher reported.
In a survey of 175 gay and lesbian adults, those who reported consistent positive support from their parents had the lowest levels of depression and anxiety symptoms, according to Matthew Verdun, of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles.
But individuals whose parents were consistently negative when it came to their sexual orientation didn’t experience significantly higher levels of anxiety and depression, Verdun explained at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) virtual annual meeting.
Interestingly, gay and lesbian adults whose parents flip-flopped with support — vacillating from negative to positive support regarding their child’s sexual orientation — experienced significantly greater symptoms of anxiety and depression than those with consistently positive or consistently negative parents.
“The findings are also relevant to mental health providers working with lesbian and gay individuals who have, or desire, a strong family connection or whose families are inconsistent in their support,” according to Verdun and colleagues in a poster presentation.
Measured by the GAD-7 questionnaire, people with consistently positive support had average anxiety scores of 5.79 (mild anxiety), while those with consistently negative support from parents had average scores of 6.22 (mild anxiety). However, those with parents who alternated between negative to positive support had an average score of 10.37, indicating moderate anxiety.
As measured by the PHQ questionnaire, those with consistent positive or negative support from parents saw mean scores of 7.38 and 8.20 (mild depression), respectively. But those whose parents weren’t consistent with support had an average score of 12.88, suggesting moderate depression severity.
Verdun recommended that if a provider has a patient who says they’re being rejected by their parents, the first thing to do is to ensure sure they’re safe and have immediate needs met, such as safe housing and access to food. The next time would be to connect patients with community resources or online in order to gain support from other sources.
For the analysis, surveys were administered to 175 cisgender gay and lesbian adults, who were recruited via social media. The surveys included demographic questions and questions on their parents’ initial support regarding their sexual orientation, as well as current level of support.
Most of the participants were under age 30, and about 70% of the cohort was white, while 9% were Black, 11% Latinx, and about 3% Asian. The vast majority (about 90%) had attained some college education or higher.
In total, the majority of participants had consistently positive support from their parents (n=84), while 50 had consistently negative parental support, and 41 had parents who went from negative to positive support. Only two respondents had parents who went from positive to negative feelings, and were excluded for being too small to analyze.
A study limitation was the lack of data on substance use amongst the parental support groupings.
Verdun said the next area of research may be to see what individuals of consistently rejecting parents did to support and buffer their mental health.
APA press conference moderator Jeffrey Borenstein, MD, of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, called the study “extremely important…I like that this can potentially lead to guidance in terms of treatment.”
Borenstein noted that it’s “common sense” that those with more supportive parents will have fewer anxiety and depressive symptoms, but “it’s always good to have such a finding demonstrated.”
“I think that the finding about the consistent parenting — even if there is a rejecting response — leads to further research to better understand why that’s so, and to see what types of other support these individuals are able to have that allows for lower levels of depression and anxiety,” he stated, adding that this population is vulnerable to mental health issues, including higher rates of suicide.
Verdun disclosed no relevant relationships with industry.