Family Science Associate Professor Jessica Fish
November 20, 2019

Dr. Jessica Fish, an assistant professor in the Department of Family Science, has been busy. In the past few months, she has published a slew of articles on LGBTQ+ mental health and substance abuse and has received multiple research grants from institutions like the National Institutes of Health.

In July, Dr. Fish published one of the first papers to explore disparities in high-intensity binge drinking by people of different sexual orientations in LGBT Health. The research found that sexual-minority women were two to three times more likely than sexual-majority women to engage in high-intensity binge drinking, while sexual-minority men were equally or less likely to engage in binge drinking than sexual-majority men. 

“Our findings really emphasize the point that we can’t just assume that LGB people experience the same things in the same way,” said Dr. Fish.

In the past month, Dr. Fish also published a study revealing the benefit of community organizations in supporting LGBTQ+ youth mental health. The Journal of Youth and Adolescence article found that young LGBTQ persons who participated in community-based LGBTQ organizations were more likely to have better mental health and less likely to use or abuse substances compared to their peers.

A new paper published by Dr. Fish in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine will expand upon the disparities found in binge-drinking by examining how social-stress mechanisms contribute to sexual-orientation disparities in alcohol, cannabis and tobacco use disorders. 

“It’s not as simple as you experience discrimination, and therefore you are at risk of a substance use disorder because of your LGB status,” Fish said. “It’s also elevated rates of everyday stress compared to heterosexual people. Those in combination contribute to elevated rates of substance use disorder.”

Dr. Fish’s research into the interplay between stigma-induced stress in minority sexual orientations and substance use will continue thanks to a $100,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

The two-year grant will fund youth-focused prevention research. Using data from an internet-based survey on LGBTQ+ peoples’ experiences, Dr. Fish and the team of external collaborators will seek to understand the differences in substance use among subgroups of the LGBTQ+ community. Information on who is more or less at risk of substance abuse, Dr. Fish said, will in turn help inform intervention and prevention strategies. 

Another grant, this time from the Lesbian Health Fund (GLMA), will fund an exploration of ways to teach parents how to talk about girls’ sexual minority identities in the hopes of buffering the harmful effects of LGBQ-related discrimination on mental health and substance use. Similar positive parental conversations have already been shown to act as a preventative-buffer for discrimination and oppression experienced by youth of color. 

Family Science Assistant Professor Mia-Smith Bynum and doctoral student Natasha Williams will also collaborate on the project

“I’m grateful for all the support,” Dr. Fish said of the grants, “and I’m excited to start working.”

Dr. Fish, along with Dr. Bradley O. Boekeloo and Dr. Rodman Turpin, also received a competitive data contract to access the Association of American Medical Colleges’ national healthcare consumer data to study LGBTQ disparities in access to healthcare. 

Other accomplishments include her receipt of the Gold Innovation Award in partnership with Natasha Williams and her receipt of the National Council on Family Relations’ Cindy Winter Scholarship Award for her outstanding leadership and service in the discipline of Family Science.

Dr. Fish is a core research scientist with the School of Public Health’s new Prevention Research Center (UMD-PRC). Funded by a 5-year, $3.75 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the UMD-PRC is the first center in the nation to focus on improving the mental health of sexual and gender minorities. 

Dr. Fish is the primary or co-primary investigator on four of the UMD-PRC’s current core research projects as well as over a half-dozen affiliated projects. 

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