Family Therapy May Help LGB Youth at Risk for Suicide

Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) teens are at increased risk for suicide due to peer victimization and minority discrimination. These actions can have serious psychological consequences for teens, including plummeting self-esteem, anxiety, hopelessness and depression. “No experience, however, is more pernicious than parental rejection,” said Gary M. Diamond of the Department of Psychology at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, and co-author of a study examining treatments to reduce suicide among LGB youth. “Societal homophobic messages, cultural values and religious beliefs lead some parents, at least initially, to perceive their child’s same-sex orientation as perverse, immoral, disgusting, and/or dangerous,” said Diamond. This type of disapproval from parents can lead to intense negative feelings, including shame, anger and guilt, which often manifest through maladaptive behaviors. Teens that experience this type of rejection often behave violently or engage in humiliating or abusive acts. Many times the tension is so severe that the children are forced out of the home or leave voluntarily.

LGB teens who receive strong family support report fewer psychological problems and contemplate suicide less than their unsupported peers. Diamond theorized that the at-risk teens might benefit from family therapy designed to treat depression and suicide. Attachment-Based Family Therapy (ABFT) is a brief form of therapy that helps families work through issues that have damaged the attachment bond, eroded trust and negatively affected psychological health. Additionally, ABFT strives to help adolescents develop a secure identity and social maturity. For his study, Diamond enrolled 10 LGB teens, all with suicidal ideation, in 12 weeks of ABFT designed for sexual minority youth, delivered in two phases.

At the end of the second phase, all of the participants had reduced their symptoms of anxiety and depression significantly. Additionally, the teens who completed the treatment thought much less about suicide. Diamond said, “Indeed, evidence suggests that modified mental health interventions for LGB individuals may increase treatment acceptability, retention, and efficacy.” He added, “The findings from this study suggest that ABFT for LGB youth may be an efficacious model for this population and therefore fill an important practice gap.”

Diamond, G. M., Diamond, G. S., Levy, S., Closs, C., Ladipo, T., & Siqueland, L. (2011, December 19). Attachment-Based Family Therapy for Suicidal Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Adolescents: A Treatment Development Study and Open Trial With Preliminary Findings. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026247

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  • charity


    January 12th, 2012 at 5:16 PM

    Family support is the key to getting through any adolescence unscathed. But add to that the added pressure and anger that lgb teens must face and it is critical that the families be there to support them through this time of learning and transition. Teens are so fragile and when you add the additional fears that lgb teens feel, then you have a recipe for disaster if they don’t feel that home is a place where they can be themselves and that the people there will love them unconditionally.

  • Ryanne Reid

    Ryanne Reid

    January 13th, 2012 at 5:36 AM

    But what about the kids who can’t turn to their families? What is out there for them?

  • FS


    January 14th, 2012 at 12:03 AM

    I just wish my family and especially my parents had stood by me when i told them of my sexual orientation.They were shocked at first,and dismissive later on.

    It really made me feel so alone and I even felt like I had let them down.Its not a disease its what you feel.How am I supposed to change that to accommodate their views :|

  • Hollister


    January 15th, 2012 at 6:03 AM

    You are right Ryanne by pointing out that sadly there are families who are not going to support their gay or lesbian family members and that they are going to need someone to turn to as well.

    When the family is out of the question you have to sometimes think outside of the box a little. Most communities are going to have support and outreach groups for pretty much anyone- you might just have to look a little deeper to find them. There are also bound to be a lot on internet support services and chat rooms dedicated to these issues.

    It may not feel exactly like family support and love at first but it can become that if you allow it to.

  • Sally Daniels

    Sally Daniels

    January 25th, 2012 at 10:01 PM

    Why is this still an issue in 2012? If a black kid was victimized in school, his perpetrators would be expelled on the spot. If a Muslin or Sikh kid was harassed, there would be a lot of letters being sent home on how they need to learn to accept other people’s belief systems. Gays are just as much a minority and deserve the same considerations.

  • loudandproud


    January 31st, 2012 at 9:43 PM

    Some parents just can’t accept the fact that their son or daughter’s are gay, and those are the kinds of parents who should get sterilized and not have any more. Anyone who is like that is an unfit parent in my book. Your love needs to be unconditional!

  • Francis Stephano

    Francis Stephano

    February 11th, 2012 at 2:34 AM

    Even though being gay can be quite a novelty to tabloids, there is nothing wrong with it and we should have that drilled into their heads. The bigotry comes purely from ignorance and nothing else.

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