LGBTQ youth face the same challenges that all teens grapple with during this time of life. And they also must cope with an additional set of challenges. All too often, LGBTQ teens are subjected to discrimination and lack of acceptance, from close family members as well as society at large. In fact, 75 percent of LGBTQ youth have experienced discrimination at least once during their life as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Learning how to support LGBTQ youth is essential for anyone who works with or on behalf of young people.
As a result of these challenges, statistics on the mental health of LGBTQ youth show high rates of depression, anxiety, and stress. Close to three-quarters of LGBTQ teens experience symptoms of anxiety, and nearly two-thirds suffer from depression. Moreover, Native/Indigenous, Asian American Pacific Island (AAPI), Black, Latinx, and multiracial LGBTQ teens encounter multiple obstacles due to their intersectional identities. LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to to attempt suicide than their peers.
New Statistics on Mental Health in LGBTQ Youth
A 2022 Trevor Project survey of 34,000 LGBTQ youth garnered new LBGTQ youth mental statistics. Here is a sampling of the findings.
- 50 percent of LGBTQ teens seriously considered suicide during the past year.
- 18 percent made a suicide attempt—twice the average rate of teen suicide attempts in the United States.
- 75 percent of LGBTQ teens experienced symptoms of anxiety in the past year.
- 61 percent experienced symptoms of depression.
- 82 percent of LGBTQ youth wanted mental healthcare in the past year, but 60 percent of those youth were unable to access care.
Furthermore, statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey show that LGBTQ teens have a higher risk of substance abuse than their peers. LGBTQ high school students abuse alcohol at 25 percent higher rates than peers. They are also significantly more likely to report recent alcohol and marijuana use. In addition, LGB teens report using cocaine, ecstasy, meth, and heroin at triple the rates of their peers.
7 Ways to Provide Support for LGBTQ Teens
As we have seen, the statistics on LBGTQ+ mental health are devastating. Individuals and society need to work toward greater awareness and understanding of the challenges these teens face. Parents, guardians, teachers, professors, school psychologists, guidance counselors, and other adult mentors are key to providing support for LGBTQ teens.
If you’re wondering how to support LGBTQ youth, here are seven ways to make a positive difference.
Offer unconditional love.
First and foremost, the best way for parents to offer help for LGBTQ youth is to show them through both words and actions that you love and accept them exactly as they are. Moreover, that you will always be there for them no matter what. LGBTQ teens suffer most, both psychologically and in terms of physical safety, when they experience rejection by loved ones. In fact, between 20 and 45 percent of homeless youth in the United States identify as LGBTQ. And most of them have left home or been kicked out due to family rejection.
A study on the impact of parental acceptance (or lack of it) on LGBTQ mental health found that parental rejection based on sexual orientation or gender identity disrupts parent-child attachment. This results in relational trauma that can have long-lasting effects. The researchers concluded that “parental acceptance of LGBT youth is crucial to ensure that youth develop a healthy sense of self.” Moreover, family acceptance can save an LGBTQ teen’s life. Trevor Project research shows that youth who experience low to moderate support from family are nearly three times as likely to attempt suicide as those who have high support (16 percent vs. 6 percent).
Use the right pronouns.
It may not feel natural at first to use your teen’s new pronouns or new name. However, doing so is proven to support their well-being. Trevor Project research shows that transgender and nonbinary youth whose pronouns are respected by the people they live with were half as likely to attempt suicide as those whose pronouns were not respected. Moreover, trans and nonbinary youth who were able to change their name and/or gender on legal documents, like driver’s licenses and birth certificates, also have a lower suicide risk. It’s okay for parents to feel some sadness or resistance to these changes. But don’t let those emotions keep you from respecting your child’s decisions and helping them move forward.
International Pronouns Day, which began in 2018 and takes place on the third Wednesday of October each year, seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace. Here are some ways to participate:
- Use the #PronounsDay hashtag.
- Post your own pronouns on social media.
- Encourage your organization or school to make pronouns an optional field in student/personnel records.
- Distribute information about pronouns on small cards (such as postcards or business cards) with other students or HR materials.
- Put your pronouns on your business cards and email signatures, and encourage others to do the same by making it easy for them. For example, make it a drop-down/fill-in option when requesting business cards.
Seek out media that centers LGBTQ people.
According to The Trevor Project, 89 percent of LGBTQ youth report that seeing LGBTQ representation in TV and movies makes them feel good about being LGBTQ. They also feel good seeing musicians, athletes, and other celebrities come out as LGBTQ. Help your teen find books, movies, music, and TV that feature LGBTQ protagonists.
“The fact that very simple things—like support from family and friends, seeing LGBTQ representation in media, and having your gender expression and pronouns respected—can have such a positive impact on the mental health of an LGBTQ young person is inspiring, and it should command more attention in conversations around suicide prevention and public debates around LGBTQ inclusion.”—Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director, The Trevor Project
Keep communication lines open.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and try to learn more about what’s happening in your teen’s life. They may push you away or offer a monosyllabic answer at first. But don’t let that deter you. Your teen needs to know that you are interested in what they’re going through. It’s also important to stay attuned to your teen’s daily experiences, because LGBTQ youth are at higher risk of bullying and victimization. If you suspect your teen is being bullied, reach out to school administrators or the guidance counselor immediately.
Connect your teen with LGBTQ-affirming communities.
This is one of the most important aspects of how to support LGBTQ youth. Accessing resources for LGBTQ teens, including supportive communities, can be life changing. Youth who have access to LGBTQ support services and affirming spaces and communities are much less likely to think about or attempt suicide. Find out about support systems and LGBTQ youth organizations for your teen at school and in your local area. CenterLink offers a directory of LGBTQ community organizations. The Trevor Project has created TrevorSpace, an affirming online community to support LGBTQ youth mental health.
Become an activist.
Look for groups for family of LGBTQ teens and get involved. Learn more about policies in your state and in the country that may be enhancing or detracting from LGBTQ mental health and wellness. Work toward making positive change at the local or national level through organizations like the Human Rights Campaign. PFLAG offers a roundup of ways to provide support for LGBTQ rights.
Make sure your teen gets the care they need.
Because LGBTQ teens are especially vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and suicide, they may need the support of a mental health professional. The Trevor Project offers crisis counseling for LGBTQ youth. To provide ongoing support for LGBTQ teens, look for a therapist, outpatient program, or residential treatment that provides culturally competent LGBTQ+ mental health services.
If you’re not sure where to start, contact Newport Academy for information about finding a therapist or treatment program. We’ll help you take the next step to ensure that your child gets the help they need to build resilience, self-acceptance, and authentic connection with family and community.
The Trevor Project National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2022
Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Report 2019
Pediatr Clin North Am. 2016 Dec; 63(6): 1011–1025.