Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (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.
As a result, statistics on the mental health of LGBTQ youth show high rates of depression, anxiety, and stress, which have increased over the last year. Close to three-quarters of LGBTQ teens are experiencing symptoms of anxiety disorder, and two-thirds are suffering from major depressive disorder. Moreover, Native/Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and multiracial LGBTQ teens encounter multiple obstacles due to their intersectional identities. Overall, LGBTQ youth are four times as likely to have suicidal thoughts, to make a plan for suicide, and to attempt suicide than their peers.
The Newest Statistics on LGBTQ Mental Health and Substance Abuse
A 2021 survey of more than 35,000 LGBTQ youth—of which nearly half were people of color and 38 percent were transgender or nonbinary—garnered new statistics on the mental health of LGTQ youth. The survey revealed how the pandemic and the political situation in 2020 have impacted LGBTQ teens. Here is a sampling of the findings:
- For 81 percent of LGBTQ teens, COVID-19 created a more stressful living situation.
- Only one-third of LGBTQ teens experienced their home as LGBTQ affirming.
- 72 percent of teens surveyed reported having poor mental health most or all of the time during the pandemic.
- 48 percent of LGBTQ youth wanted counseling from a mental health professional but did not have access to care over the past year.
- 94 percent reported that politics during 2020 had had a negative effect on their mental health.
- Two-thirds of Black LGBTQ youth and 60 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander LGBTQ youth experienced discrimination during the past year based on their race/ethnicity.
- One-third of LGBTQ youth and half of all Native/Indigenous LGBTQ youth experienced food insecurity in the month prior to the survey.
Furthermore, statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey show that LGB teens have a higher risk of substance abuse than their peers. LGB high school students abuse alcohol at 25 percent higher rates than peers, and are significantly more likely to report recent alcohol and marijuana use. In addition, LGB teens report using hard drugs, including cocaine, ecstasy, meth, and heroin, at triple the rates of their peers.
5 Ways to Support LGBTQ Teens
In light of these devastating statistics, it’s essential for individuals, as well as society as a whole, to work toward greater awareness and understanding of the challenges that LBGTQ teens face. For parents, guardians, teachers, professors, school psychologists, guidance counselors, and other adult mentors wondering how to help LGBTQ youth and access LGBTQ resources for teens, here are five ways to make a positive difference.
Offer unconditional love. First and foremost, show your teen through both your words and your actions that you love and accept them exactly as they are, and 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 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—a form of 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.”
Use the right pronouns. It may not feel natural at first to use your teen’s new pronouns or new name, but doing so is proven to support their well-being. In the large-scale survey mentioned above, transgender and nonbinary youth whose pronouns were respected by the people they lived 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 had 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, by making it a drop-down/fill-in option when requesting business cards.
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.
Become an activist. Find out about support systems for your teen at school and in your local area. For LGBTQ youth who have been separated from peers and LGBTQ-affirming spaces during the pandemic, finding a supportive community can be life changing. Look for groups for family of LGBTQ teens as well, 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, and work toward making positive change at the local or national level.
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, particularly in the wake of the collective trauma, loneliness, and isolation of the pandemic. 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 2021
Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Report 2019
Pediatr Clin North Am. 2016 Dec; 63(6): 1011–1025.