Category: Gay / Lesbian / Bisexual / Transgender Issues

Symposium

Romantic Relationship Involvement: A Protective Factor for Mental Health Among Some but Not All Sexual Minorities

Saturday, November 18
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Indigo Ballroom A, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: L / G / B / T | Couples / Close Relationships | Race / Ethnicity
Presentation Type: Symposium

Background:Sexual minorities experience elevated rates of internalizing disorders and other negative mental health outcomes, largely due to minority stress. An important component of efforts to reduce these mental health disparities is to identify protective factors that decrease risk for psychological distress. One well-established protective factor among heterosexual adults is involvement in a romantic relationship. However, research on the effects of romantic involvement in sexual minorities is limited, inconsistent in findings, and has treated sexual minorities as a homogeneous group. To address these limitations, we used multiwave longitudinal data to; 1) examine associations between relationship involvement and psychological distress among sexual minorities, and 2) test for differences in these associations by gender, race, and sexual orientation.


 


Method:Participants were drawn from a community sample of 248 sexual minority youth (ages 16-20 years at baseline). At eight assessments over 5 years, we assessed current involvement in a serious romantic relationship and psychological distress (Brief Symptom Inventory; Derogatis, 2001). Data were analyzed using multilevel structural equation modeling in Mplus Version 7.


 


Results:The within-person associations between relationship involvement and psychological distress differed dramatically based on race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender. Specifically, Black, Latino, and gay/lesbian participants reported less psychological distress at waves when they were in a serious relationship than when they were not. However, there was no association between relationship involvement and psychological distress for White participants. Further, for bisexuals, relationship involvement predicted higher distress. Regarding gender, relationship involvement predicted lower distress for both genders, but this effect was stronger for cismen than for ciswomen.


 


Conclusions:Involvement in romantic relationships appears to promote mental health for some, but not all, young sexual minorities. These findings highlight the importance of attending to differences among subgroups of sexual minorities in research, policy, and interventions. 

Sarah W. Whitton

Associate Professor
University of Cincinnati

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