Sexual Orientation, Social Support, and Mental Health: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

Ning Hsieh, University of Pennsylvania

In contrast to a large body of research reporting that sexual minorities are at higher risks of mental distress compared to heterosexuals, only few studies have investigated the determinants of mental health disparities by sexual orientation in a systematic manner. This study examines the role of social support for middle-aged Americans, a significant yet under-investigated component that potentially contributes to the disparities. Using representative data from three waves (2003-2008) of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the study shows that emotional support and the number of close friends significantly buffer the excess mental distress experienced by sexual minorities, particularly self-identified homosexuals, bisexuals, and others. Further, sufficient amounts of support even help these individuals attain the level of mental health status comparable to their heterosexual counterparts’ level. The finding suggests that strengthening social support for sexual minorities may be key in closing the mental health gap by sexual orientation.

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Presented in Poster Session 2