Family Trouble: Heteronormativity, emotion work and queer youth mental health

McDermott, Elizabeth; Gabb, Jacqui; Eastham, Rachel and Ali, Hanbury (2021). Family Trouble: Heteronormativity, emotion work and queer youth mental health. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine, 25(2) pp. 177–195.



Conflict with the family about sexual orientation and gender diversity is a key risk factor associated with poor mental health in youth populations. Findings presented here derive from a UK study that employed an interdisciplinary critical mental health approach that de-pathologized emotional distress and conceptualised families as social and affective units that are created through everyday practices. Our aim was to explore how family relationships foster, maintain or harm the mental health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ youth. Data were generated through exploratory visual, creative and digital qualitative methods in two phases. Phase 1 involved digital/paper emotion maps and interviews with LGBTQ+ youth aged 16-25 (n=12) and family member/mentor interviews (n=7). Phase 2 employed diary methods and follow-up interviews (n=9). The data analytic strategy involved three stages: individual case analysis; cross-sectional thematic analysis; and metainterpretation. We found that family relationships impacted on queer youth mental health in complex ways that were related to the establishment of their autonomous queer selves, the desire to remain belonging to their family and the need to maintain a secure environment. The emotion work involved in navigating identity, belonging and security was made difficult because of family heteronormativity, youth autonomy and family expectations and had a stark impact on queer youth mental health and wellbeing. Improving the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth requires a much deeper understanding of the emotionality of family relationships and the difficulties negotiating these as a young person.

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