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Within-person associations between romantic involvement and mental health among sexual and gender minorities assigned female-at-birth

Sarah W Whitton, Christina Dyar, Lisa M Godfrey, Michael E Newcomb

Journal of Family Psychology

Sexual and gender minorities assigned female at birth (SGM-AFAB) experience significant mental health disparities, making it important to identify protective factors against psychological and substance use problems in this population. We examined whether romantic relationship involvement, a well-established protective factor for mental health in heterosexual adults, is protective for SGM-AFAB young people. Using five waves of data from 488 racially diverse SGM-AFAB (ages 16-31 years at baseline), we assessed within-person associations between relationship involvement and depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and problematic alcohol and cannabis use. We tested for differences in these associations by age; sexual, gender, and racial identity; relationship status; and partner gender, and whether romantic involvement buffers the negative effects of anti-SGM victimization. Multilevel models indicated that participants reported fewer depressive symptoms, alcohol use problems, and cannabis use problems when romantically involved than when single. Romantic involvement was associated with fewer anxiety symptoms for Latinx participants only. Associations did not differ by age and were generally consistent (with some exceptions) across sexual, gender, and racial identity. Effects on substance use were stronger for long-term commitments than dating relationships. Participants reported less depression and anxiety, but more alcohol or cannabis use, when romantically involved with cisgender women than with cisgender men or gender minority partners. Together, findings suggest that relationship involvement is broadly protective of mental health among SGM-AFAB, though it may not buffer the negative effects of SGM victimization. Efforts to reduce SGM-AFAB mental health disparities should consider including strategies to support healthy relationship involvement. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

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