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Emotional Distress Among LGBT Youth: The Influence of Perceived Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

Abstract

The authors evaluated emotional distress among 9th–12th grade students, and examined whether the association between being lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgendered (i.e., “LGBT”) and emotional distress was mediated by perceptions of having been treated badly or discriminated against because others thought they were gay or lesbian. Data come from a school-based survey in Boston, Massachusetts (n = 1,032); 10% were LGBT, 58% were female, and ages ranged from 13 to 19 years. About 45% were Black, 31% were Hispanic, and 14% were White. LGBT youth scored significantly higher on the scale of depressive symptomatology. They were also more likely than heterosexual, non-transgendered youth to report suicidal ideation (30% vs. 6%, p < 0.0001) and self-harm (21% vs. 6%, p < 0.0001). Mediation analyses showed that perceived discrimination accounted for increased depressive symptomatology among LGBT males and females, and accounted for an elevated risk of self-harm and suicidal ideation among LGBT males. Perceived discrimination is a likely contributor to emotional distress among LGBT youth.

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Acknowledgments

The Boston Youth Survey 2006 (BYS) was funded by a grant from the CDC/NCIPC (U49CE00740) to the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center (David Hemenway, Principal Investigator). BYS was conducted in collaboration with the City of Boston and Mayor Thomas M. Menino. The survey would not have been possible without the participation of the faculty, staff, administrators, and students of Boston Public Schools. We also acknowledge the work of Daria Fanelli, Alicia Savannah, Angela Browne, and Steven Lippmann. We appreciate the assistance of Mary Vriniotis with data collection and management. Note: The funding agency did not play a role in the design or conduct of this study, nor did they take part in the preparation of this manuscript. Individuals from the City of Boston contributed to survey development in that they made content recommendations. Both the CDC/NCIPC and the City of Boston have been notified that this manuscript is being submitted for publication.

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Correspondence to Renee M. Johnson.

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Almeida, J., Johnson, R.M., Corliss, H.L. et al. Emotional Distress Among LGBT Youth: The Influence of Perceived Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation. J Youth Adolescence 38, 1001–1014 (2009) doi:10.1007/s10964-009-9397-9

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Keywords

  • Emotional distress
  • LGBT
  • Self-harm
  • Suicide
  • Depression