Being the victim of discrimination can be emotionally and psychologically painful. Some individuals who have experienced prejudice feel immediate distress and fear, while others have feelings of anxiety and depression that can linger for many years. Experiencing discrimination early in life can lead a person to become anxious and fearful of future discrimination. Understanding how prejudice and discrimination affect symptoms of anxiety and depression is an important step in treating these issues. Brian A. Feinstein of the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University in New York chose to focus on the relationship between discrimination and mental health in a recent study. For his research, Feinstein surveyed 249 gay men and 218 lesbians online and asked how their sensitivity to rejection and negative homosexual perceptions affected their mental health. He also inquired about their childhood experiences of discrimination resulting from gender nonconformity.
Feinstein found that negative attitudes toward homosexuality were directly predictive of discrimination and future social anxiety and depression. He also discovered that the participants who reported gender nonconformity in childhood were more likely to report discrimination later in life. Although these findings were reported by the majority of the participants, they were more significant among the gay men than among the lesbians. In general, it appeared that the participants who felt victimized in childhood were more likely to anticipate rejection in adulthood. This was especially true if they experienced parental rejection in childhood. Additionally, early homonegativity and rejection led to negative feelings about the participants’ sexual orientation in adulthood.
The findings of this study should be considered in light of the fact the sample size was rather small and not very culturally diverse. Also, the survey information was gathered online and included only gay people and lesbian people. Future work should integrate a broader sample. Until that happens, these findings provide valuable insight into how the minority stress theory affects the emotional and psychological well-being of members of the lesbian/gay/bisexual (LGB) community. One promising finding is the unique relationship between self-acceptance and less discrimination. “It is possible that LGB individuals who are more accepting of their sexual identity may be less likely to experience negative psychological outcomes subsequent to discrimination, given their greater self-acceptance,” Feinstein said. This information could be used to increase acceptance and facilitate resilience in LGB individuals faced with prejudice and discrimination.
Feinstein, Brian A., Marvin R. Goldfried, and Joanne Davila. The relationship between experiences of discrimination and mental health among lesbians and gay men: An examination of internalized homonegativity and rejection sensitivity as potential mechanisms. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 80.5 (2012): 917-27. Print.
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