The Mental Health of LGBTQ Youth

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By now you’ve likely heard: Teen sadness, depression, and suicide attempts have soared since 2010, especially among girls. From 2011 to 2020, suicide-related issues rose fourfold, from 0.9 percent of U.S. pediatric emergency room visits to 4.2 percent. The teen mental health decline is unprecedented. And it is substantial.

Although debate over causation continues, varied studies converge in pointing to social media as a likely major culprit. And legislators have taken note, by proposing bipartisan state and congressional bills that would limit teen social media access.

The CDC’s new 100-page “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS) samples 17,232 ninth to twelfth graders from all U.S. public and private schools, and documents the malaise of today’s teen girls. But another troubled, less-discussed group also caught my eye—what the report refers to as LGBQ+ teens (transgender teens were not separately surveyed).

A CDC summary document portrays the significant mental health challenges of LGBQ+ high schoolers:

Poor mental health in last 30 days:

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Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness:

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Seriously considered attempting suicide:

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Made a suicide plan in the last year:

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Attempted suicide:

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These data replicate findings in other reports. In 2022, the Trevor Project, which studies and supports the mental health of LGBTQ youth, collected more than 34,000 reports from 13- to 24-year-old LGBTQ youth and young adults. Although the respondents were self-selected, the online survey found, exactly as did the CDC, that “45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.”

What explains the sexual identity–mental health correlation? The common presumption is that the stigma and stress faced by sexual minorities exacts a toll. “We must recognize that LGBTQ young people face stressors simply for being who they are that their peers never have to worry about,” observed Trevor Project CEO Amit Paley.

Digging deeper into the CDC’s YRBS data, it appears that, indeed, even with the growing acceptance of people who are gay, the stigmatization and stressors remain. Kids—and society at large—can be cruel. More findings:

Did not go to school because of safety concerns:

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Bullied online:

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Bullied at school:

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These data prompt our sobering reflection on the struggles of LGBTQ youth. They also make us wonder: Might sexual-minority youth be less vulnerable to depression, hopelessness, and suicidal thinking if given . . . more access to mental health services? . . . a support group in a safe space? . . . greater public education about the realities of sexual orientation? Or what would you suggest?

(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com or his new essay collection, How Do We Know Ourselves: Curiosities and Marvels of the Human Mind. Follow him on Twitter: @davidgmyers.)

Image credit: Thomas Baker/Alamy Stock Photo.

About the Author
David Myers has spent his entire teaching career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has been voted “outstanding professor” and has been selected by students to deliver the commencement address. His award-winning research and writings have appeared in over three dozen scientific periodicals and numerous publications for the general public. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see www.hearingloop.org).