The Influence of Social Support on Disparities in Mental Health and Substance Use for LGBT Youth: A Critical Review
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LGBT youth experience disparities when compared to cisgender and/or heterosexual youth in critical health-related outcomes such as mental illness, suicidality, and substance use. Social support represents a demonstrable avenue of resilience for ameliorating these disparities, but the unique challenges of this population call for consolidation of the recent literature on social support to adequately tailor interventions. I conducted a trans-disciplinary search of the literature published after 2010 that examines the relationship between social support and these health outcomes among LGBT youth, resulting in 19 peer-reviewed, empirical studies that reported on mental illness, suicidality, or substance use outcomes in regards to LGBT youth between 13-25 years old. Overall, social support from various sources (e.g., parents, peers) was significantly protective of adverse health outcomes in a majority of studies, with results varying depending on age, gender, and the type of outcome. Family and peer support were most often studied and nearly universally protective across health outcomes, and school and partner support were less studied but often protective. Recommendations for practitioners include encouraging an environment of opportunity for social support in various ways, such as peer or family counseling for youth. Future researchers could further build on this body of literature by investigating substance use and its relationship to social support, differences in gender and identity, and the impact of significant other support on these health outcomes.
- Health services