Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name



Social Work

First Advisor

N. Eugene Walls, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Kimberly Bender

Third Advisor

Debora Ortega


LGBTQ youth, Minority stress, Non-suicidal Self-injury, Risk and resilience, Social context


Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), such as cutting and burning, is a widespread social problem among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Extant research indicates that this population is more than twice as likely to engage in NSSI than heterosexual and cisgender (non-transgender) youth. Despite the scope of this social problem, it remains relatively unexamined in the literature. Research on other risk behaviors among LGBTQ youth indicates that experiencing homophobia and transphobia in key social contexts such as families, schools, and peer relationships contributes to health disparities among this group. Consequently, the aims of this study were to examine: (1) the relationship between LGBTQ youth's social environments and their NSSI behavior, and (2) whether/how specific aspects of the social environment contribute to an understanding of NSSI among LGBTQ youth.

This study was conducted using an exploratory, sequential mixed methods design with two phases. The first phase of the study involved analysis of transcripts from interviews conducted with 44 LGBTQ youth recruited from a community-based organization. In this phase, five qualitative themes were identified: (1) Violence; (2) Misconceptions, Stigma, and Shame; (3) Negotiating LGBTQ Identity; (4) Invisibility and Isolation; and (5) Peer Relationships. Results from the qualitative phase were used to identify key variables and specify statistical models in the second, quantitative, phase of the study, using secondary data from a survey of 252 LGBTQ youth. The qualitative phase revealed how LGBTQ youth, themselves, described the role of the social environment in their NSSI behavior, while the quantitative phase was used to determine whether the qualitative findings could be used to predict engagement in NSSI among a larger sample of LGBTQ youth. The quantitative analyses found that certain social-environmental factors such as experiencing physical abuse at home, feeling unsafe at school, and greater openness about sexual orientation significantly predicted the likelihood of engaging in NSSI among LGBTQ youth. Furthermore, depression partially mediated the relationships between family physical abuse and NSSI and feeling unsafe at school and NSSI. The qualitative and quantitative results were compared in the interpretation phase to explore areas of convergence and incongruence. Overall, this study's findings indicate that social-environmental factors are salient to understanding NSSI among LGBTQ youth. The particular social contexts in which LGBTQ youth live significantly influence their engagement in this risk behavior. These findings can inform the development of culturally relevant NSSI interventions that address the social realities of LGBTQ youth's lives.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.


Received from ProQuest

Rights holder

Sarah J. Nickels

File size

281 p.

File format





Social Work

Included in

Social Work Commons