LGBTQ+ Young Adults and Teen Mental Health: How to Help Yourself and Your Friends
Coming of age is hard under practically all circumstances; coming of age and identifying as LGBTQ+ can be even more difficult, especially if the very people who are supposed to protect and love you judge you and treat you differently because of your orientation. The discrimination, abuse, and marginalization that LGBTQ+ young adults face in childhood can carry over well into adulthood in multiple areas of life, including the workplace, the family, the legislative chamber, and even the doctor’s office. Internal and external stressors can lead to serious mental health issues, including suicidal ideations and attempts.
2020 survey data from the non-profit LGBTQ+ advocacy group The Trevor Project indicates:
- Over 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.
- Around 70% of LGBTQ youth stated that their mental health was “poor” most of the time or always during COVID-19.
- Approximately 72% of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in the past two weeks, including more than 75% of transgender and nonbinary youth.
- Over 62% of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of major depressive disorder in the past two weeks, including more than two-thirds of transgender and nonbinary youth.
If you or your loved one is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and experiencing mental health issues due to your orientation or gender identity, it can feel like you’re all alone, but there are many venues and resources to which you can turn for help, support and allyship.
Understanding the Unique Problems Facing LGBTQ+ Young Adults
The LGBTQ+ community houses a number of different groups under its umbrella, and each one faces their own unique set of obstacles and adverse experiences that can lead to acute and long-term mental health issues:
In the case of the gay and lesbian population:
- Nearly 40% reported having a mental illness in the past year.
- Gay, lesbian, bisexual teens are 6X more likely to experience symptoms of depression than non-LGBTQ+ identifying teens.
- Lack of cultural sensitivity and unconscious and conscious reluctance to address sexuality often diminishes efficacy of mental health care in the LGBTQ+ community.
In the specific case of the transgender population:
- Depressive symptoms, suicidality, interpersonal trauma exposure, substance use disorders, anxiety, and general distress have been consistently elevated among transgender or gender-non-conforming adults.
- Data indicates that trans individuals are almost four times as likely as cisgender people to experience a mental health condition.
- Nearly 30 percent of transgender individuals report being denied needed mental and medical health care.
- Transgender people are over four times more likely than cisgender people to be victims of violent crime.
Data from the American Psychological Association (APA) indicates that parents’ rejection of a child’s sexual orientation fuels mental health problems. Although there have been great strides made toward inclusivity in the workplace, gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees still face a variety of mental health challenges connected to their daily and long-term workplace experiences. The reality is that there are few, if any, areas of life in which members of the LGBTQ+ can avail themselves of the same protections and comforts as straight, cisgender people.
How to Be an Ally of an LGBTQ+ Friend of Loved One
Health, safety, and quality of life for LGBTQ+ young adults can be greatly improved and enriched by the people with whom they interact every day; this includes friends, colleagues, family, and society writ large. While this group is not a monolith, and each member faces their own unique set of struggles and circumstances that will require personal support and attention, they often share common baseline issues of discrimination, marginalization, and abuse that those around them are more empowered than they may realize to correct. Here are some effective ways to be an ally to an LGBTQ+ friend or loved one:
- Listen without judgment.
- Exercise open-mindedness when heating their stories.
- Signal that you’re willing and ready to communicate.
- Include LGBTQ+ friends in gatherings with friends and family.
- Don’t make straight the “default” or make assumptions that all your friends and co-workers are cisgender or heterosexual. It’s possible that someone may be seeking support as they come out. Assuming straight is the “norm” may make them more fearful.
- Refrain from making anti-LGBTQ+ comments and jokes and let others know you find them harmful and offensive.
- Work on recognizing and confronting your own prejudices and bias, even if it’s uncomfortable.
- Support and defend your LGBTQ+ loved ones against discrimination and abuse.
Most of all, remember that all people, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, should be treated with dignity and respect. LGBTQ+ adults often say that their mental health issues and trauma may have been mitigated or less severe if they had just one person to whom they could turn when they were growing up.
Mental Health Resources for LGBTQ+ Young Adults
As much as LGBTQ+ young adults continue to face barriers to positive mental health and quality of life, there are more resources than ever to help you or your loved one in your struggle. Below is a list of supportive mental health resources you can turn to if you need help:
- Mental Health America LGBTQ+ Therapy Directory
- Mental Health Provider Questionnaire for on Queer, Trans and Intersex Black, Indigenous and Persons of Color (QTIBIPOC) (Human Rights Council)
- Black and African American LGBTQ Youth Report
- GLSEN’s Website on Native and Indigenous LGBTQ Youth in U.S. Schools
- GMLA Provider Directory
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network (NQTTCN) – QTPOC Mental Health Practitioner Directory
- National LGBT Health Education Center – Learning Resources for Providers
- Two-Spirit and LGBTQ Health
- Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
- Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
Other resources include the Trevor Project, National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network, Mental Health Fund for Queer and Trans People of Color, and the Human Rights Council.
You don’t have to struggle with mental health issues on your own if you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community. You are loved, you are valued, and you deserve to be heard and protected. Get the help and support you need now.