Many studies find a higher rate of health and mental health problems among lesbian, gay and bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teens than in heterosexual youth, often fingering social rejection as the culprit. A new study of lesbians, gays and bisexuals, however, suggests another major possible cause: parental rejection.

The research, published in the January Pediatrics (Vol. 123, No. 1), found that LGB adults who reported high rates of parental rejection in their teens were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to have had unprotected sex than LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection, reports the study team, headed by Caitlin Ryan, PhD, of San Francisco State University.

"Because families play such a critical role in child and adolescent development, it is not surprising that adverse, punitive and traumatic reactions from parents and caregivers would have such a negative influence on [young people's] risk behaviors and health status as young adults," the authors write.

The study, conducted on 224 white and Latino LGB young adults, is the first to identify and measure specific parental rejecting behaviors and link them to health and mental health outcomes in LGB youth, Ryan says. The work is part of a larger project called the Family Acceptance Project (http://familyproject.sfsu.edu). Ryan is using the findings to develop interventions to help families from various ethnicities better support their LGBT children, she says.

Preliminary results are promising: "We've seen that families can grow and become more supportive once they've learned how their words, actions and behaviors affect their LGBT children," she says.

—T. DeAngelis