Over the years, there have been tremendous strides toward LGBTQI+ equality and inclusion. For instance:
- Same-sex marriage has been legalized in the United States.
- Transgender candidates are being elected to public office.
- There is an increasing positive portrayal of queer people on media.
These cultural milestones and achievements have positively influenced the LGBTQI+ youth (i.e., aged 13–17), with 93% of them feeling proud to be part of the community. But despite these victories, today’s queer youth continue to experience several challenges due to their sexual orientation and gender identity, which adversely impact their mental health.
What are the challenges faced by LGBTQI+ youth?
#1 Fear of real or perceived rejection at home
Parents and families play a vital role in the overall health and well-being of adolescents. Unfortunately, the 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report showed only 24% of queer youth say that they can be themselves at home, and only 25% have families who show support for them by getting involved in the larger LGBTQI+ community.
Many queer adolescents don’t share their LGBTQI+ identity with their parents because they’re scared of being rejected, disowned, kicked out of the house, or forced into conversion therapy. These fears are compounded by the negative comments about LGBTQI+ people that they’ve heard from their families.
For other teens, feeling rejected is already their reality. In fact, 48% of queer youth who have come out to their parents say that their families make them feel bad for being LGBTQI+.
#2 Negative or hostile school environments
Because adolescents spend the majority of their time in school, their experiences there also greatly impact their health and well-being. But for the majority of queer youth, their school isn’t a supportive environment as revealed by the same report:
- Only 27% of LGBTQI+ youth can “definitely” be themselves in school as a queer person.
- Only 13% heard positive messages about being LGBTQI+ in school.
- Only 26% say they always feel safe in the classroom.
- 70% have been bullied at school because they’re LGBTQI+.
- 73% have received verbal threats in school because of their actual or perceived queer identity.
- 30% have received physical threats in school due to their sexual orientation and gender identity.
- 50% of transgender girls have been physically threatened in school.
The lack of support and outright rejection doesn't just come from queer youth's peers, but also from their school administrators and teachers. One survey respondent shared, “At school, I have been bullied and called slurs by other students. When I asked the principal to help my situation, he laughed at me and told me I was overreacting. I’ve also had teachers look me in my eyes and tell me they do not support same-sex marriage and transgender people...”
#3 Harassment and violence outside of home and school
Beyond their home and school environments, a lot of LGBTQI+ adolescents experience negative treatment because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The same report reveals the following statistics:
- 77% of queer teens received unwanted sexual comments, jokes, and gestures.
- 11% have been sexually attacked or raped because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.
- 20% were forced to do sexual things they didn’t want to do.
What are the effects of these challenges on LGBTQI+ youth’s mental health?
#1 Heightened stress levels and difficulty sleeping
Due to the numerous stressors that LGBTQI+ youth face, the same report shows that 85% of them rate their average stress at 5 or higher on a 1–10 scale, and 95% of them have trouble sleeping at night.
#2 Feelings of depression and mental illnesses
77% of LGBTQI+ adolescents said that they usually felt down or worthless. And because many of them lack a good support system and only 41% of them have received counseling to address such issues, these negative feelings often develop into mental illnesses. In fact, multiple studies have revealed that LGBTQI+ youth have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and alcohol and drug addiction than their heterosexual counterparts.
#3 Self-harm or suicidal thoughts or attempts
When left untreated, depression and other mental illnesses may escalate to suicide. Sadly, Mental Health America reports that compared to their heterosexual peers, LGBTQI+ youth are four times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and hurt or kill themselves.
What can you do as a parent of an LGBTQI+ adolescent?
Aside from providing a loving home environment for your child, you should consider looking for mental health providers who offer psychological and psychiatric services specifically tailored to the LGBTQI+ community, like Meridian Psychiatric Partners. The 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report notes that youth who underwent counseling reported better mental health outcomes.
Schedule an appointment with us today. We cater to clients in Chicago, Evanston, and Lake Forest.