Peer victimization and emotional distress among LGB youth

Feb 10th – Pediatrics – Victimization of LGB youth, particularly boys, decreases after high school, but remains high relative to heterosexual peers.

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Image: PD. 2007 Pew Global Research Poll: Should homosexuality be accepted in society? Brown = lowest acceptance, magenta = highest. 

1. Victimization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth, particularly boys, decreases after high school, but remains high relative to heterosexual peers.

2. Gay/bisexual and heterosexual girls have the same relative risk of victimization by the end of high school.

3. The higher emotional distress among LGB youth relative to heterosexual youth has a strong link to victimization and bullying, but is not the sole cause.

This study employs a longitudinal prospective design to both characterize the incidence of victimization for LGB youth and to evaluate how this victimization contributes to their emotional health. Although these data are limited by self-report of victimization and qualitative evaluations of emotional distress, it is the first longitudinal prospective study of its kind. The data presented suggest that there are significant disparities between LGB boys and girls with regards to bullying, although both groups experience greater bullying during their young adolescence than their heterosexual peers. The data also demonstrate that the question of whether “it gets better” during and after high school is nuanced. This study shows that absolute rates of bullying experienced by gay/bisexual boys and girls does, in fact, decrease significantly both during and after high school, but equalizes only for girls. The likelihood of being bullied for gay/bisexual boys increases after high school when compared to heterosexual peers. This study additionally supports previous work showing disparities in emotional distress between LGB and heterosexual youth, linking as much as 50% of this disparity to victimization in high school. These disparities may be linked to the increased incidence of substance abuse, depression, and suicide observed among LGB youth. These data suggest that efforts to both reduce LGB victimization in high school and to reduce the stigma associated with LGB association may improve the demonstrated emotional distress disparity between LGB and heterosexual teens.

Click to read the study in Pediatrics

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Image: PD. 2007 Pew Global Research Poll: Should homosexuality be accepted in society? Brown = lowest acceptance, magenta = highest. 

1. Victimization of LGB youth, particularly boys, decreases after high school, but remains high relative to heterosexual peers.

2. Gay/bisexual and girls have the same relative risk of victimization by the end of high school.

3. The higher emotional distress among LGB youth relative to heterosexual youth has a strong link to victimization and bullying, but is not the sole cause.

This [prospective cohort] study followed 4135 English youth over seven years, from the ages of 13-14 to 19-20,, of whom 4.5% (n=187) identified as LGB. During each annual interview, participants and parents were asked about experiences of victimization or bullying at school, ranging from name calling to physical violence. Participants’ emotional distress level was additionally evaluated.

LGB boys were more likely to be victimized than heterosexuals at all ages (p<0.05). Though the absolute rate decreased significantly after high school, the relative likelihood remained,four times that for heterosexuals. LGB women were more often victimized at younger ages (p= 0.001), but by the end of high school, were no more likely to be bullied than their heterosexual peers. LGB youth experienced greater emotional distress than heterosexuals, and approximately half of this disparity was related to greater victimization (46%, p<0.001 for girls and 54%, p=0.015 for boys).

In sum: This study employs a longitudinal prospective design to both characterize the incidence of victimization for LGB youth and to evaluate how this victimization contributes to their emotional health. Although these data are limited by self-report of victimization and qualitative evaluations of emotional distress, it is the first longitudinal prospective study of its kind. The data presented suggest that there are significant disparities between LGB boys and girls with regards to bullying, although both groups experience greater bullying during their young adolescence than their heterosexual peers. The data also demonstrate that the question of whether “it gets better” during and after high school is nuanced. This study shows that absolute rates of bullying experienced by gay/bisexual boys and girls does, in fact, decrease significantly both during and after high school, but equalizes only for girls. The likelihood of being bullied for gay/bisexual boys increases after high school when compared to heterosexual peers. This study additionally supports previous work showing disparities in emotional distress between LGB and heterosexual youth, linking as much as 50% of this disparity to victimization in high school. These disparities may be linked to the increased incidence of substance abuse, depression, and suicide observed among LGB youth. These data suggest that efforts to both reduce LGB victimization in high school and to reduce the stigma associated with LGB association may improve the demonstrated emotional distress disparity between LGB and heterosexual teens.

Click to read the study in Pediatrics

By Emilia Hermann and Devika Bhushan

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