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Study Shows Benefit of Community Organizations in Supporting LGBTQ Youth Mental Health

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Jessica Fish, faculty member of the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland
Assistant Family Science Professor and Core Research Scientists at the Prevention Research Center Dr. Jessica Fish

In a new Journal of Youth and Adolescence article, Family Science Assistant Professor Dr. Jessica Fish explores who engages in and benefits from communal LGBTQ organizations. The paper found 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.

“These centers exist in cities all across the country, some for 30 years or more, yet we have done a poor job of highlighting the important ways in which they support LGBTQ young people at a very formative time in their life,” said Dr. Fish, whose study is the first to examine the impact of youth participation in LGBTQ community centers and programs.

“Our findings suggest that youth who engage in these programs show better mental health and lower substance use and that long-term participation is linked to greater self-esteem and lower rates of substance abuse for LGBTQ youth,” Dr. Fish continued.

Dr. Fish worked with community partner Deborah Levine, the director of LGBT YouthLink, a division of CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers. While CenterLink supports the growth of LGBTQ centers nationwide and acts as a voice for the community, YouthLink focuses on LGBTQ centers for youths and amplifies young voices.

“This is an important foundational study for LGBTQ youth organizations to understand who is participating in their programs and the associated impacts of that participation,” Levine said. “It clearly lays out the importance of ensuring there is future research into the impact of these organizations on the lives of LGBTQ youth.”

Dr. Jessica Fish is a human development and family science scholar whose research focuses on the health and well-being of sexual and gender minority people and their families. She is a core research scientist in the University of Maryland Prevention Research Center (UMD-PRC), which was funded this fall by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lead research, services and training that supports LGBTQ+ mental health.

“Based on our knowledge of these centers, and their presence in communities around the US, we believe that they could be an untapped resource for supporting the positive development and health of LGBTQ young people,” Dr. Fish said. 

Dr. Fish has recently published several articles studying differences in substance use and the development of substance abuse among subgroups of the LGBTQ community. Her research has given credence to the theory that the accumulation of daily microaggressions strongly contributes to LGBTQ persons’ substance use and abuse. 

Read the full study, titled “LGBTQ Youth-Serving Community-Based Organizations: Who Participates and What Difference Does it Make?

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