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NIH Awards $3.6 million to Dr. Brian Feinstein for Study on Rejection Sensitivity in Sexual Minority Adolescents

Psychologist Brian Feinstein, PhD, is determined to improve the health of one of the nation’s most vulnerable populations — sexual minority youth, who are at higher risk of suicide and depression than their heterosexual peers. Those disparities, Dr. Feinstein says, are “rooted in exposure to rejection, discrimination and victimization.”

“I hope our research will shine a light on the need to understand and address the mental health challenges facing sexual minority youth,” he said. “We need to let them know they’re not alone.”

Dr. Feinstein, associate professor and director of the Sexuality, Health, and Gender Lab, has been awarded a five-year, $3.6 million grant by the National Institute of Mental Health to investigate the effects of sexual orientation-related rejection sensitivity — the expectation of rejection and accompanying feelings of anxiety — on the mental health of sexual minority adolescents.

“What we see with sexual minority people is that having a history of experiencing rejection because of one’s identity can contribute to developing a sense that people are going to continue to reject you in your day-to-day life,” Dr. Feinstein said. “That mindset can undermine mental health.”

The longitudinal and experience-sampling study will provide researchers with real-time data. A diverse cohort of 500 sexual minority adolescents ages 14-17 from across the U.S. will complete online surveys for 18 months, answering questions four times a day for six weeks via an app.

“We want to really understand these temporal dynamics — how experiencing, expecting and worrying about rejection influences their mental health,” Dr. Feinstein said. “The knowledge we gain can help inform interventions that reduce health disparities in this population.”

The study will also connect participants with people who care about their mental health. 

“A lot of them don’t have that,” Dr. Feinstein said. “Sexual minority adolescents are eager to connect with adults who want to hear what’s going on in their lives.”

Dr. Ronald Kaplan, RFU executive vice president for research, commended Dr. Feinstein’s lab for advancing an essential area of practice and research.

“RFU joins Dr. Feinstein and the National Institutes of Health in working to improve care for all sexual and gender minority populations,” he said.

Posted July 13, 2023
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