Mental Health Disparities between Sexual Minority and Heterosexual Youth: The Role of Emotion Regulation and the Parent-Child Relationship
Stettler, Nicole Marie
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A significant body of literature has shown that sexual minority youth (SMY) are at increased risk for mental health problems, including internalizing symptoms, compared to their heterosexual peers. A recent theory suggests that difficulties with emotion regulation may be underlying these disparities, and preliminary evidence supports emotion regulation as a mechanism of risk. However, research to date has only examined a few aspects of emotion regulation among SMY. Furthermore, despite evidence from the broader developmental literature that having a positive parent-child relationship supports youth’s emotion regulation, no studies have examined how the parent-child relationship may buffer SMY from difficulties with emotion regulation and subsequent mental health symptoms. The current study examined the relationship between sexual minority status, emotion regulation strategies, and internalizing symptoms, as well as the role of positive quality of the parent-child relationship. A sample of 278 adolescents, including 38 SMY, completed questionnaires. Sexual minority status was measured by asking respondents to indicate their sexual orientation identity in a multiple-choice format. Nine emotion regulation strategies were measured using the Children’s Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (CERQ). Youth’s internalizing symptoms were measured using the Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI) and the Multidimensional Anxiety Scale for Children (MASC). Quality of the parent-child relationship was assessed using the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment – Revised (IPPA-R). Direct effects of sexual minority status on internalizing symptoms were tested using regression. Indirect effects and conditional indirect effects were tested using an SEM framework to generate parameter estimates and bootstrapping procedures were used to estimate the effects and confidence intervals. Results suggested that sexual minority status was directly associated with more symptoms of depression, but not anxiety. Contrary to hypotheses, no indirect effects of sexual minority status on internalizing symptoms were found through any of the nine emotion regulation strategies. Furthermore, no conditional indirect effects based on quality of the parent-child relationship were found. Despite the paucity of indirect effects and conditional indirect effects, the current study provides further evidence of disparities in symptoms of depression between SMY and their heterosexual peers. The results of the current study add to what is known about the associations between sexual minority status, emotion regulation, and internalizing symptoms, and contribute to a new direction for research in this area by examining the impact of the parent-child relationship on youth’s outcomes. Implications and recommendations for future research on emotion regulation and mental health among SMY are highlighted.
- Psychology