Using data at the beginning (wave 1) and end of the school year (wave 2), we hypothesized that greater GSA engagement across the year would predict increased perceived peer validation, self-efficacy to promote justice, and hope (i.e., indicators of empowerment), which in turn we hypothesized would predict reduced depressive and anxiety symptoms at the end of the year. At the group-level, we hypothesized that youth in GSAs whose advisors felt greater efficacy to address LGBTQ issues and which had more mental health discussions would report greater reductions in depressive and anxiety symptoms.
Methods: Among 361 youth in 38 GSAs (79% LGBQ, 57% cisgender-female, 67% White, Mage=15), we used established measures to assess youths’ perceived peer validation (6-items; α=.93, .94), self-efficacy to promote justice (5-items; α=.91, .92), hope (6-items; α=.92, .92), depressive symptoms (10-items; α=.85, .87), and anxiety symptoms (21-items; α=.95, .95) at both waves. Youth also reported their GSA engagement levels over the year (wave 2; 5-items; α=.88). Advisors reported their LGBTQ-efficacy (9-items; α=.92), as well as the number of times mental health was discussed over the year (4-items; α=.91).
Results: We used multilevel SEM to test our models. Greater GSA engagement predicted residualized increases in perceived peer validation (b=.20, p<.001), justice self-efficacy (b=.31, p<.001), and hope (b=.23, p<.001) when controlling for scores on each respective variable at wave 1; residualized increases in hope predicted residualized decreases in depressive (b=-1.63, p<.001) and anxiety (b=-3.21, p<.001) symptoms when controlling for depression and anxiety at wave 1. Indirect associations between GSA engagement and reduced depressive and anxiety symptoms were statistically significant through increased hope (b=-.37, p<.001, b=-.72, p<.001, respectively). GSAs whose members had more mental health discussions reported greater reductions in depressive symptoms (b=-.49, p=.06).
Conclusions: Results could inform the development of prevention programs to be delivered in GSAs to promote resilience. For instance, programs could guide youth through mental health discussions and aim to increase youths’ sense of hope.