The State of LGBTQ Youth Mental Health
Issues to address and ways to improve
“This year, Pride Month is going to be different for me. I want people to know that I'm proud of who I am. I don't care what they have to say about who I love. This month is for people like me to showcase the pride we have in our sexuality as well as the community. I will be celebrating all month as much as I can. I hope to take one of my brothers and his boyfriend to their first Pride parade, it would be my first too! I'm so excited to celebrate this month!” - Dominique, TurningPointCT Project Assistant at Positive Directions (read Dominique’s full post here)
LGBTQ youth are at higher risk of mental health conditions and suicide, but their sexual orientation or gender identity does not make them inherently at higher risk. The trauma and stress associated with stigma, discrimination, violence and rejection are factors that increase that risk.
According to data from The Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth are more than four times likely to attempt suicide than their peers and rates are higher among LGBTQ youth of color. They also experience higher rates of anxiety and depression. Transgender youth are at even higher risk. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports transgender youth are twice as likely to experience symptoms of depression, seriously consider suicide and attmept suicide.
Data from the 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health from The Trevor Project supports these facts; 73% of LGBTQ youth participants reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and 58% reported symptoms of depression. Locally, student surveys have shown the same trends. A 2021 survey conducted by Positive Directions revealed that 20% of LGBTQ youth in one Fairfield County town attempted suicide in the past year compared to 6% of students overall. The LGBTQ students also reported higher rates of depression, anxiety and substance use than their peers.
4 Factors That Increase the Risk of Mental Health Problems and Suicide
Rejection & Discrimination
LGBTQ youth are coming out at younger ages and some face rejection from their family, faith groups, peers and many are rejected by society in general. Some even thrown out of their home; they are at more than double the risk of facing homeless. A 2015 study found only one-third are accepted by their parents, one-third face parental rejection and one-third choose not to come out until they are adults due to the fear of rejection. Some surveys show even higher numbers with 40% reporting rejection by a family member or close friend.
These relationships play a critical role in a child’s development, so when teens and young adults are rejected by their own parents or another close friend or relative, it’s no surprise that they are at a higher risk of mental health problems and suicide. One study found that LGB young adults who report high levels of parental rejection are eight times more likely to attempt suicide and six times more likely to experience high levels of depression.
Families who are supportive can help decrease the risk for negative outcomes. The Family Acceptance Project offers the following ways you support LGBTQ youth:
Talk with your child about their LGBT identity
Express affection when your child tells you or when you learn that your child is gay or transgender
Support your child’s LGBT identity even though you may feel uncomfortable
Advocate for your child when he or she is mistreated because of their LGBT identity
Require that other family members respect your LGBT child
Bring your child to LGBT organizations or events
Talk with clergy and help your faith community to support LGBT people
Connect your child with an LGBT adult role model to show them options for the future
Welcome your child’s LGBT friends & partners to your home
Support your child’s gender expression, including their pronoun choice
Believe your child can have a happy future as an LGBT adult
You can download their full guide, “Supportive Families, Healthy Children Helping Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Children” for additional information.
When it comes to discrimination, LGBTQ people face discrimination in all areas of their life, including school, the workplace, healthcare settings and the law. Laws in some states that prohibit access to gender-affirming medical treatment for transgender youth is a current example of discrimination.
Get tips for becoming an LGBTQ ally from The Human Rights Council.
Find ways to support LGBTQ youth of color on the GLSEN website.
Lack Of Affirming Spaces
Not having LGBTQ-affirming spaces increases the risk of suicide. In a 2020 Trevor Project report, only 43% of LGBTQ youth said that home was an LGBTQ-affirming space, 36% said that their workplace was LGBTQ affirming, and only 29% reported that events in their community were LGBTQ-affirming. The good news is 62% reported their school was an affirming space. Although there is still a lot of room for improvement, it’s important that this number is higher because “affirming school environments were found to have the strongest association with reduced odds of a past-year suicide attempt.” LGBTQ youth who reported having at least one LGBTQ-affirming space had 35% reduced odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year and transgender and nonbinary youth had 25% reduced odds if they reported having at least one gender-affirming space.
“I felt safe to openly talk about my sexuality and identity because my peer specialist had large safe space signs and Pride flags." -Participant, TurningPointCT peer support at Positive Directions, age 17
Find tips for supporting LGBTQ youth at school on the CDC website.
Another area that disproportionately affects LGBTQ people is physical violence. A study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law found LGBT people are nearly four times more likely to experience rape, sexual assault and other violent assualts. LGBT youth experience physical violence and bullying, which increases their risk for suicide. According to data from The Trevor Project, “36% of LGBTQ youth reported that they have been physically threatened or harmed, and those who did attempted suicide at nearly triple the rate of those who did not in the past year.” When it comes to bullying, more than half of LGBTQ middle and high school students reported being builled in person or electronically in the past year and those who were bullied had three times greater risk of attempting suicide.
Access To Mental Health Care
Access to mental health care is a challenge for many people, not just the LGBTQ community. However, finding LGBTQ-competent mental health care is even more challenging. The 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health showed 82% of LGBTQ youth wanted mental health care and of those who wanted it, only 40% got it. The top three reasons for not receiving care were:
Fear of discussing mental health concerns
Concerns with obtaining parent/caregiver permission
Fear of not being taken seriously
Additionally, LGBTQ youth of color didn’t feel that the provider would understand their culture.
"When I was asked my pronouns at my first session, I felt like it actually mattered to my peer specialist because I was asked." -Participant, TurningPointCT peer support at Positive Directions, age 18
The Gender Unicorn (Great for kids, youth and families!)