The Social Context of YMSM Depressive Symptomology: Experiences of Homophobia, Social Identity Commitment, and Social Network Composition As Determinants of Depression in a Sample of Grindr Users
Thursday, January 17, 2013: 2:30 PM
Executive Center 3B (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Background: Research suggests young men who have sex with men (YMSM) experience higher rates of depression when compared to their peers. Recent work points to the social context in which these youth are embedded as being the primary factor associated with mental distress. While social context factors including; social network composition, experience of homophobia, gay community connection (GCC), and level of outness have been found to be associated with depressive symptomology in gay youth, little research has explored the relative effect on depression of each of these constructs. The purpose of this study was to understand which social context factors most impact depressive symptomology amongst YMSM.
Method: A sample of 195 YMSM were randomly recruited from August to October 2011 in Long Beach and West Hollywood, California utilizing the geosocial networking application Grindr. Respondents were asked to complete a 20-30 minute survey. Items focused on Gay Community Connection (GCC), lifetime experience of homophobia, social network composition, outness, and depressive symptomology. Social network items asked respondents to report the “five people you interact with the most and/or who are most important to you.” Hierarchical multiple regression models were conducted using an ecological framework for the blocking of variables. Five models were created using the level of social context: 1) demographic controls, 2) adding past experiences (chronosystem), 3) adding identity commitment variables (individual level), 4) adding social network composition (microsystem), 5) adding enactment of identity commitment (mesosystem).
Results: Most youth (96%) identified as homosexual or bisexual. Sixty-five percent of youth were “out” to their parents and friends. Youth reported a moderate level of lifetime experience of homophobia, cognitive GCC, and actual GCC. Reported mean depressive symptomology was moderately low. Youths' social network alters were 55% male, 48% sexual minority, 68% friend, 17% family, 7% coworker, 8% objecting to gay sex, 61% providing emotional support, and 52% providing instrumental support. Model 5 provided the best fit (F=3.215, p<.001) for predicting depressive symptomology and accounted for 29.5% of the variance. Four variables were found to predict depressive symptomology: lifetime experience of homophobia (b=.013, t=3.917 , p<.001), enacted GCC (b=-.011, t=-2.003 , p=.047), and presence of network member who objected to gay sex (b=.087, t=2.639, p=.009). Additionally a quadratic relationship was found between proportion of network providing emotional support and depression.
Conclusion: The association of lifetime experience of homophobia with depression suggests that, despite present network characteristics, past experiences of homophobia continue to affect youth. The finding further indicates the need for school policy change to focus on the reduction of bullying and homophobia. YMSM rely on their social networks for support, and presence of an objecting alter has significant implications. This finding indicates the need for interventions that teach youth skills to deal with objecting viewpoints and to help youth to reorganize their social networks. Further, investigation of internalized homophobia as a mediator, may explain the impact of an objecting network on depression.