There’s a Mental Health Crisis in LGBTQ+ Youth, and Adults Need to Help
It’s true that the LGBTQ+ community has more rights in the United States than generations before. However, this group continues to fight for rights, acceptance, and love in many pockets of society across the country. This continued struggle puts LGBTQ+ youth at risk of mental health disorders and suicide.
Regardless of each individual’s personal, spiritual, or religious beliefs about LGBTQ+ issues, it’s up to all adults in our society to protect adolescents and young adults. That must include LGBTQ+ youth. Right now, these young people are in the midst of a crisis, and the adults in their lives hold the key to the solution.
If you want to help LGBTQ+ youth, start by understanding the mental health risks they face, what causes these issues, and how you can effectively protect vulnerable people in your community.
Suicide Risk Among LGBTQ+ Youth
According to the Trevor Project’s annual survey in July 2020, about 40 percent of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered suicide in the previous year. The risk is even more pronounced in transgender and nonbinary youth. More than half of these teens and young adults seriously considered completing suicide in the past year.
One out of every five transgender and nonbinary youth and 15 percent of all LGBTQ+ youth attempted suicide in that year. All too many were lost.
In June 2020, 11% of the general adult population seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months. This large difference here shows that LGBTQ+ youth face unique challenges to their mental health.
If you or someone you love is considering suicide, please reach out for immediate help through one of the following resources:
- Use the Trevor Project’s lifelines for LGBTQ+-specific help
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255
- Chat with someone from the lifeline through the website
- Text “HOME” to 741741 to text a crisis counselor
- Go to the nearest emergency room
Why are LGBTQ+ Youth in a Crisis?
All people have a fundamental need for acceptance and love. LGBTQ+ youth are no different. However, many people in this community face rejection instead. That lack of acceptance is the core cause of the LGBTQ+ youth mental health crisis, but it’s important to understand what that rejection looks like in more detail.
Conversion Therapy Harms LGBTQ+ Youth
Perhaps one of the most harmful practices against the LGBTQ+ community is conversion therapy. In this practice, someone who appears to be an authority figure attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Conversion therapy is typically completed outside the home.
High-quality, licensed therapists do not use conversion therapy. This cruel practice is not supported by any credible organization of mental health professionals. While there are many diverse opinions in this field, conversion therapy is almost universally understood to be harmful.
Officials from the American Psychological Association stated that conversion therapy can be a catalyst for mental illness, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse. The most recent data confirms this statement.
According to the Trevor Project, 10 percent of LGBTQ+ youth underwent conversion therapy in the previous year. Of those young people, 28 percent attempted suicide afterward. That’s more than double the number of LGBTQ+ youth who attempted suicide without conversion therapy.
Informal Conversion Attempts and LGBTQ+ Suicide
Formal conversion therapy is not the only way in which people try to convince others to change their gender identity or sexual orientation. About 58 percent of LGBTQ+ youth report having someone try to convert them. For many of these young people, conversion attempts come from parents or other loved ones.
Loved ones harm LGBTQ+ youth by attempting to convert them in many ways:
- Assuming it’s a phase
- Using the wrong pronouns repeatedly or on purpose
- Denying the truth about their loved one’s identity
- Lying to other people about their loved one’s identity
- Using religion to attempt to convince someone to change
- Using slurs and other harmful language to refer to members of the LGBTQ+ community
- Abuse or neglect
These actions and others like them seriously harm the mental health of people in the LGBTQ+ community and make them twice as likely to attempt suicide.
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Other Factors That Contribute to LGBTQ+ Youth Suicide Rates
Formal and informal conversion attempts aren’t the only factors driving the high rates of suicidal thoughts in this community.
Young people in the LGBTQ+ community face some serious obstacles that contribute to the mental health crisis, including:
- Lack of access to high-quality mental health care.
- Contentious political debates about their identities.
- Physical violence or threats of violence due to their identities.
- Homelessness, typically due to being kicked out of their homes or running away from abusive situations.
These issues affect all identities within the LGBTQ+ community. However, research consistently finds that transgender and nonbinary youth are the most likely to struggle with their mental health.
How to Support LGBTQ+ People In Your Life
Looking at the statistics about mental health in the LGBTQ+ community is upsetting and discouraging. The good news is that you can be part of the solution. Researchers have found many protective factors against suicidal thoughts and other mental health problems in the LGBTQ+ community.
Protective factors are the opposite of risk factors. When they are present in someone’s life, the person is less likely to have serious mental health problems.
To protect and support LGBTQ+ youth in your life:
- Use the correct pronouns. If you accidentally use the wrong ones, apologize and correct yourself.
- Insist that others use the correct pronouns, even if the person in question is not around.
- Help transgender and nonbinary youth access things gender-affirming clothes and shapewear, if desired.
- Ask them how they want to be supported.
- Stand up for them against those who might harm them.
- Never attempt to question their identity or convert them.
- Help them find or establish an in-person supportive space for LGBTQ+ youth.
- Be open to learning about gender identity and sexual orientation. Better yet, actively seek out knowledge on these topics.
There are so many ways to affirm LGBTQ+ youth. But what’s the best way to support a loved one in the LGBTQ+ community? Love them for exactly who they are.