Longitudinal Associations of Homophobic Name-Calling Victimization with Psychological Distress and Alcohol Use During Adolescence

Published in: Journal of Adolescent Health, v. 59, no. 1, July 2016, p. 110-115

Posted on RAND.org on July 14, 2016

by Joan S. Tucker, Brett Ewing, Dorothy L. Espelage, Hank Green, Kayla De La Haye, Michael Pollard

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Purpose

Homophobic victimization, and specifically name-calling, has been associated with greater psychological distress and alcohol use in adolescents. This longitudinal study examines whether sexual orientation moderates these associations and also differentiates between the effects of name-calling from friends and nonfriends.

Methods

Results are based on 1,325 students from three Midwestern high schools who completed in-school surveys in 2012 and 2013. Linear regression analysis was used to examine the associations among homophobic name-calling victimization and changes in anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms, and alcohol use one year later, controlling for other forms of victimization and demographics.

Results

Homophobic name-calling victimization by friends was not associated with changes in psychological distress or alcohol use among either students who self-identified as heterosexual or those who self-identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB). In contrast, homophobic name-calling by nonfriends was associated with increased psychological distress over a one-year period among LGB students and increased drinking among heterosexual students.

Conclusions

Homophobic name-calling victimization, specifically from nonfriends, can adversely affect adolescent well-being over time and, thus, is important to address in school-based bullying prevention programs. School staff and parents should be aware that both LGB and heterosexual adolescents are targets of homophobic name-calling but may tend to react to this type of victimization in different ways. Further research is needed to understand the mechanisms through which homophobic victimization increases the risk of psychological distress and alcohol use over time.

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