How prevalent are mental health conditions among LGBT youth?

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Young people within LGBTQIA+ communities are more likely to experience challenges with their mental health. This is largely due to the oppression and discrimination they may encounter at school, at home, and in their wider community.

This article uses the term “queer,” which some members of LGBTQIA+ communities consider offensive, to refer to self-identified participants in studies.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other self-identified queer (LGBTQ) youth have higher rates of mental health issues than people in the general population.

Research suggests that these mental health challenges correlate with factors such as family acceptance and bullying. This indicates that stigma and discrimination, and not being LGBTQ itself, may predict LGBTQ youth mental health difficulties.

In this article, we will discuss statistics on mental health conditions prevalent in LGBTQIA+ communities, and where people can find support.

Suicide rates are rising across most groups, including teenagers. However, LGBTQ teenagers have even higher rates of suicidal actions and thoughts. A 2016 study suggests that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth consider suicide at nearly three times the rate of heterosexual youth.

The Trevor Project’s 2019 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 39% of LGBTQ youth seriously contemplated suicide in the prior year, with 71% of LGBTQ youth feeling sad or hopeless.

Click here to learn more about LGBTQIA+ youth and depression.

A 2018 study found that transgender youth experience mental health diagnoses at higher rates than their peers. They are also more likely to report abuse.

The Trevor Project highlight how rejection and discrimination affect the mental health of LGBTQ youth:

  • Two out of three participants reported that someone had tried to convince them to change their sexual orientation.
  • In the report, 76% said that the political climate affected their mental health.
  • Less than half were out to an adult at school.
  • In the report, 58% of transgender and nonbinary respondents said that other people discouraged them from using the bathroom that was consistent with their gender.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also emphasize this hostile climate, drawing on data from the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey:

  • In the survey, 34% of LGBT youth experienced bullying at school.
  • Nearly a fifth of respondents (18%) experienced physical or dating violence.
  • In the survey, 18% of LGBT youth report sexual assault.
  • Roughly 1 in 10 LGBT youth were threatened or injured with a weapon at school.

A 2013 National School Climate Survey by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network also highlights that schools can be unsafe learning environments and can expose LGBT youth to anti-LGBT behavior and discriminatory practices.

Most studies suggest that LGBTQ youth experience higher rates of anxiety and depression. A 2020 Trevor Project survey indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic may have been particularly challenging for the mental health of self-identified queer youth.

LGBTQ youth were 1.75 times more likely than their peers to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. The figure was even higher among trans and nonbinary youth, as they were 2.4 times more likely to face anxiety or depression.

Respondents report that due to lockdown procedures, many felt more exposure to stigma. In many cases, quarantining with unsupportive family members exacerbated their anxiety.

Around a third said they were unable to be themselves at home, while 16% said they felt unsafe at home. About 1 in 4 also said they were unable to access mental health care.

LGBTQ youth face all the same stressors as other teenagers, such as:

  • puberty
  • fitting in with friends
  • conflict with parents
  • school
  • planning for the future

They must also grapple with a society that may reject or stigmatize them.

A 2018 Human Rights Campaign report drawing on national survey data found much higher stress rates among LGBTQ youth. Some highlights include the following findings:

  • Nearly all respondents (95%) report trouble sleeping at night.
  • In the previous week, 77% reported feeling depressed.
  • Just 26% reported always feeling safe at school.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ youth are less likely to have family to whom they can turn for help, which can make it difficult to get treatment for substance abuse. Some may turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate or to manage the pain of rejection and bullying.

A 2015 study found that rejection at school correlated with a higher risk of substance abuse for LGBTQ teens.

Anti-LGBTQ messages, family rejection, and fear can all affect self-esteem. A 2018 Human Rights Campaign survey reports that although most (91%) LGBTQ youth report pride in their identity, 70% reported feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness during the previous week.

Additionally, 67% of respondents said that they heard members of their family make anti-LGBTQ statements.

Feelings of rejection were highest among LGBTQ youth of color. A mere 11% of whom said people view their racial or ethnic group positively.

Eating disorders are a way of coping with emotional pain, and some people use them to gain a sense of control when life feels out of control.

A 2020 analysis suggests that 54% of LGBT people received a diagnosis with at least one eating disorder at some point during their lives. An additional 21% suspect they may have an eating disorder.

While mental health issues are common among LGBTQ populations, a person does not have to suffer in silence. Some options for getting support include:

  • contacting a local organization or business that serve the LGBTQIA+ community, such as a bookstore or advocacy organization
  • joining a campus LGBTQIA+ advocacy and support organization
  • getting to know an LGBTQIA+ adult who can offer reassurance
  • sharing feelings with a trusted adult, such as a family member, teacher, or mentor
  • seeking help from an LGBTQIA+ affirming therapist or counselor, such as a school counselor or university counseling center, who may be able to connect with resources

People may also be able to seek help online via several organizations that provide support and advice. LGBTQIA+ youth resources include:

LGBTQIA+ youth can try accessing free, confidential assistance from trained professionals via national hotlines. These hotlines are available 24 hours per day and may benefit anyone experiencing difficulties with their mental health or those who want or need to talk about their feelings.

If anyone believes that a person is at immediate risk of suicide, they should call 911 or a local emergency number immediately. People should try to provide as much accurate information as emergency services need.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can call 800-799-4889.

Click here for more links and local resources.

Rejection, isolation, bullying, and safety issues can all conspire to make it more difficult for LGBTQIA+ youth to feel safe and supported. This can result in mental health issues and may account for the higher rates among those in LGBTQIA+ communities.

LGBTQIA+ youth can try to access online support services or find support networks in their local community that may be able to provide identity-affirming care and support.

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