Having a large social network of other people with the same sexual identity benefits the health of LGBT people, a new study finds.
Previous studies have found that discrimination and related stress can be harmful to the health of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, so researchers decided to look at social factors that may reduce that harm.
The investigators surveyed 2,560 LGBT adults about discrimination, stress, social networks, physical health, depression and life satisfaction.
The results showed that the harmful effects of discrimination are reduced when LGBT individuals include more people in their social circle who share their sexual identity. The ages of those people didn't matter.
The number of straight people in an LGBT person's social network didn't have an impact, according to the Michigan State University (MSU) study published online recently in the Journal of Aging and Health.
"Having more family and friends around gives us more people to depend on when we really need it. When it comes to discrimination, people want someone they can rely on who can provide a listening ear," said study lead author William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology at MSU. "A lot of the time, this means giving emotional support, so having a larger social network makes that possible."
The researchers said their study is the first to identify social factors that help offset discrimination-related harm to the health of LGBT people.
The findings highlight the important role that a person's background plays in their health and well-being, Chopik said in a university news release.
"People experience all sorts of stress every day and the ability to cope with it effectively can prevent a major health crisis," he said. "For LGBT people, we found that social networks were a resource they could rely on for support."
The results should also remind health care providers about the need to consider their patients' mental stress.
Chopik said many in the medical community are indifferent to the stressors that LGBT people face every day.
"We found that the stress that arises from discrimination predicts worse physical and mental health," he said. "Having a better understanding of the risk and protective factors present in their patients' environments can lead to a more holistic understanding of their health and well-being."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on LGBT health.