by Courtney Oliver, LMHC
BYS Executive Director
Being a youth can be hard enough, being a LGBTQ+ youth can be even more difficult. Studies have shown that LGBTQ+ kids are at higher risk than other youth to develop mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. In addition, they have higher rates of suicidal ideation, plans, and dying by suicide. It is important to recognize that identifying as LGBTQ+ does not cause mental illness, but lends itself to a higher risk of developing mental health challenges due to being exposed to risk factors such as rejection, violence, and lack of support.
In 2022, the Trevor Project reported there are 34,000 LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-24, 73% of which stated feelings of anxiety, 58% reported symptoms of depression, and 45% contemplated suicide. In the transgender youth community, it has been reported 1 in 5 actually attempted suicide.
How do we protect and support our LGBTQ+ youth? We need to be able to understand the risks and protective factors that can affect their mental health. LGBTQ+ can carry a lot of stress just by being who they are. These stressors can create mental illness conditions or traumatic experiences that are difficult to heal from. These risk factors include:
- Bullying: In a Trevor Project report, 73% of LGBTQ+ youth said they have experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity
- Lack of family support: Not having family support can increase risk factors and safety in the home
- Lack of support at school: Not having support from teachers and school administration can increase risk factors and safety at school
- Lack of access to mental health care: The Trevor Project reported 60% of respondents to a poll stated they were unable to get appropriate mental health services
- Physical harm: The Trevor Project poll found that 38% of LGBTQ+ youth reported being physically threatened or harmed due to their sexual orientation or gender identity
Protective factors for our LGBTQ+ youth include:
- Health care: Check in with your youth to make sure they know of support resources, who their primary care provider is, and where they are located. Primary care providers can offer another safe person they can share with. In addition, be sure your child knows where to get mental health support, such as crisis resources or local therapy options. BYS provides free mental health therapy for local youth ages 13-21.
- Supportive environment: It is important that LGBTQ+ youth find an environment where they feel they can be themselves and feel free to explore their own identity by trying new ways of presenting themselves through appearance and attitude. Providing a safe space where youth can explore their identity can communicate support and that it is ok to express themselves.
- Supportive adults: It is important for all youth to have supportive adults in their lives who are not their parents. In addition, it is crucial for LGBTQ+ youth to have exposure to LGBTQ+ role models and positive representations through media (films, music,etc), work, sports, and activities. Building a community around your youth that includes thriving LGBTQ+ adults can support their experiences and allow them to see what is possible.
All of us can be role models for tolerance, kindness, and inclusion and it will go a long way in supporting all youth, but especially LGBTQ+ youth.