Powerful Practices: The Impact of Family Relationships on Queer Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing

Monday, 16 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Elizabeth MCDERMOTT, Lancaster University, United Kingdom
Jacqui GABB, Open University, United Kingdom
Global research consistently shows that compared to heterosexual youth, those who identify as non-heterosexual have a much greater risk of poor mental health. A key risk factor associated with poor mental health in youth populations is conflict with the family about sexual orientation. Parental violence, abuse and rejection are strongly correlated with queer youth mental distress; conversely, a supportive, caring and accepting parent–child relationship is correlated to mental wellness in queer youth.

However, the majority of existing research on queer youth mental health and family relationships uses survey data to examine compromised parent-adolescent relationships. Evidence-based knowledge of the gendered and heteronormative power relations of parenthood and wider family relations is absent. Moreover, this research is overwhelmingly conducted within a biomedical psychiatric paradigm that tends to pathologize young people’s emotions and conceptualize the family as a monolithic, biological institution. We present findings from a small scale UK study that utilizes sociological theorizations of ‘emotion’ and ‘family’ to explore family relationships and the mental health of queer youth.

Drawing from qualitative interviews with queer youth aged 16-25 (n=20), interviews with their families (n=10) and digital/paper emotion maps, we focus on the emotional and relational work done by queer youth and their families to negotiate disempowerment, violence and injustice – from both within and outside the family. We reframe emotion as meaningful human sensations that guide interactions; families are conceived as social and affective units that are created through everyday practices and processes of relationality. The findings are read through theoretical understandings of intergenerational and heteronormative regimes of power that inform the production of developmental norms of identity/sexuality, and neoliberal norms of successful adulthood. We present analysis on how power, emotions and relationships are implicated in the management of young people’s non-normative sexualities within families, and their impact on mental health and wellbeing.