Mental Health Struggles in LGBTQ+ Youth
NOTE: As someone who identifies as queer and nonbinary, I often use the term “queer” to describe the whole LGBTQ+ community, as do many people I know. This is because it is better fitting than “gay”, as gay most accurately refers to homosexual males. I recognize that this is a debated choice, and I apologize if it offends anyone.
NOTE 2: This post talks about mental health struggles for LGBTQ+ youth, and as such will discuss suicide, harassment, and other potentially triggering/upsetting topics. If any of these might disturb you, please consider that before reading.
Being queer isn’t easy, and I think everyone knows that by now. But being a queer youth is even harder, for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest of these is all of the mental health problems that can come with it.
Certainly, everyone in the community faces these struggles in some capacity, but today, I’m going to talk specifically about LGBTQ+ youth.
If you or someone you know is facing any of these problems, know that you aren’t alone, and this isn’t the end. There are many great ways to get help, including the Trevor Project (from whom much of the relevant data comes). You can always get help if you need it.
Today’s post is dedicated to the memory of Alan Turing. Turing was an English mathematician and computer scientist. Many believe that we wouldn’t have computers the way we do today without his work. He killed himself (this fact is contested, yet mostly agreed upon) in 1954 at the age of 41, after being chemically castrated due to “homosexual acts”. History books often ignore him or the fact that he was queer, but he deserves recognition.
Of course, one of the most common and pressing mental health issues for queer youth is suicide. It’s no secret that the rates are disproportionately high among LGBTQ+ youth, in comparison to the general population: in July of 2020, 40% had considered suicide in the past year.
When looking at transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC) individuals, that number went up to more than half.
With suicide being one of the leading causes of death for youth in the U.S., these numbers are obviously worrying. And when you start to look at the factors behind them, it sadly makes a lot of sense.
We’ll get to those factors soon, but first, let’s look at some other mental health problems that can coexist with or contribute to these thoughts of suicide.
Depression and anxiety
Queer youth are at a much higher risk for negative mental health, including things like depression and anxiety.
Depression can make it harder to complete tasks, find enjoyment in things, or even just get out of bed. And with all the negative treatment LGBTQ+ youth can face, it makes sense they might start feeling hopeless.
Anxiety, on the other hand, makes it difficult to interact with others, ask for help when you need it, and even leave the house. It might often follow the bullying or harassment that queer youth so often face.
Both of these, as well as other mental health conditions, are bad enough on their own. But add them to thoughts of suicide, and things can seem a lot bleaker.
PTSD and trauma
Although less talked about, another major negative effect on mental health is PTSD and/or trauma. Many queer people will experience bullying, harassment, LGBTQ+ discrimination, or outright assault at least once in their life.
These things can leave scars, whether they’re done to us or someone else. Many of these experiences are heavily traumatic, and deserve to be treated as such.
So know that queer youth are more likely to suffer from these things as well as other mental health struggles. If you think any of this might apply to you, please don’t hesitate to get help in whatever way you can.
So why do these things happen?
After reading all of that, you may feel (rightfully) angry, or hopeless. But know that there are ways to get help and to help others.
The first step to that is understanding where these things might come from. By understanding the cause, we can work to change the problem not just by its effects, but directly at the source.
Here are some of the possible reasons behind these mental health struggles:
Acceptance: Acceptance, and the lack thereof, can make a huge difference in the life of LGBTQ+ youth, especially those who identify as trans or GNC. In fact, when someone has at least one accepting family member, their risk for suicide drops dramatically. Inversely, feeling a total lack of acceptance can be isolating, and worsen these issues.
Another facet of this is “interventions”— people trying to convince you to “change your lifestyle” (AKA not be queer). Whether this takes the form of a simple talk or so-called conversion “therapy”, this can be very harmful to queer youth.
Politics: To some (mostly the heavily privileged), politics are just a dinner conversation. But to queer youth, politics often means other people, usually those outside the community, discussing the very right queer people have to exist happily. This can obviously be distressing and cause harm.
Housing/financial insecurity: LGBTQ+ youth homelessness is a real problem, with many teens being kicked out because of their identity. This can cause unnecessary stress that makes being mentally healthy difficult.
Access to treatment: Many LGBTQ+ youth find getting access to mental health treatment, or healthcare related to being trans/GNC, very difficult. Whether the obstacle is parents, finances, or something else, not having access to good treatment will obviously be detrimental.
Social ostracization: No matter how many companies put up Pride merch, the fact remains that in most of the U.S., queer youth are ostracized from their peers in one way or another. This can mean direct social rejection, or simply feeling like it’s difficult to interact with others. And being socially isolated rarely helps anyone.
Harassment and threat of violence: Although as a society we have improved significantly, bullying, harassment, and violence is still a problem for queer youth. Taunts from classmates, name calling, not respecting pronouns, and using slurs can be heavily damaging to kids. Add to that the fear of being physically attacked— especially for trans and GNC individuals— and it creates a mental state of constant fear and anxiety.
Cultural stigmas and language: Queerphobia was, for centuries, so ingrained in our culture that it worked its way into our language and general mannerisms. Although we are trying to move past it, there are still parts of our culture that can be damaging to queer youth: always presuming a male-female friendship is inherently romantic/sexual (heteronormativity), saying things like “man up”, using gay as a synonym for bad (unrelated to anything actually queer), saying he/she instead of they, and more.
It’s not hopeless
All of that seems pretty depressing, I know. And to be real about the mental health struggles of LGBTQ+ youth, we have to be a bit depressing.
But it’s not all depressing. Our world is changing, and every day more and more queer youth become happy with who they are.
If you’re struggling with any of these things or more, you can always get help. The Trevor Project offers great, and free, 24/7 support for LGBTQ+ youth. You can reach out to friends, family members, doctors, or even trained mental health professionals. You never have to go through this alone.
And if you’re wondering how you can help ease the burden of some of these issues, here are a few ways that we, as individuals and a society, can work towards change:
Promoting acceptance: Making acceptance the norm, teaching it in schools, and accepting everyone you know can greatly help queer people.
Making language more inclusive: The examples I listed above are only a few of many. Changing our language may be difficult, but it will help so many people in the long run.
Preventing bullying and harassment: There’s nothing we can do to completely stop this. But if we make it socially unacceptable, call people out when we see it, and strictly punish it, we can make it less common.
More access to treatment and resources: Access to good mental health treatment, mental health resources, and LGBTQ+ resources should be the norm, and we can work to make it that.
It’s clear that LGBTQ+ youth have a lot of mental health problems that could plague them, often stemming from a plethora of social factors. But that doesn’t mean it all has to be depressing. Together, we can make this world a better place for queer youth.
So as you celebrate Pride Month, take time to acknowledge the queer youth in your life, what they might be going through, and how you can help them.
Do you have other resources you want to share? Questions? We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or tag us on social media (@therapeutichealingjourney on Instagram and @llctherapeutic on Twitter).