LGBTQ Teens and Their Mental Health Risks
It’s only been in the last twenty years or so that young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer/questioning (LGBTQ) have become more open about their sexuality. For many of these youths, their fear of not being accepted by their families and peers kept them from telling anyone about their orientation until they were adults. Recently, however, these teens have found more access to support through an increase in social acceptance, internet communities, school diversity programs, and youth groups for LGBTQ adolescents. These resources have allowed them to feel more comfortable with their sexual orientation and helped them come out to others at a younger age than in the past. Even though LGBTQ teens are finding more support, however, they still face unique mental health risks.
LGBTQ Teens Face Mental Health Concerns
Despite the fact that identifying as LGBTQ has become more socially acceptable, a gay teen has a disproportionately higher amount of mental health concerns than their heterosexual counterpart. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that LGBTQ teens have an increased risk of personal violence:
- 34% reported being bullied on school grounds
- 23% had experienced sexual dating violence within the past year
- 18% had experienced sexual dating violence
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that sexual minorities, such as LGBTQ teens, face not only chronic stress from their stigmatized identities, but also victimization, prejudice, and discrimination. How much these external stressors affect these youths depends on their own negative internalization of their sexual orientation, their expectation or personal experience with discrimination or rejection, and their ability to cope with these stressors.
Studies have also shown that teens and adolescents who identify as LGBTQ are at greater risk for mental health problems across all developmental stages. Among other things, they have:
- A suicide risk that is nearly three times higher than that of heterosexual youths
- Higher rates of suicide ideation
- Elevated rates of anxiety and depression
- Almost 18% of lesbian and gay youth participants met the criteria for major depression
- 3% met the criteria for PTSD in the previous 12 months
- 31% of the LGBT sample reported suicidal behavior at some point in their life
How Parents Can Support Their LGBTQ Teen
Positive parenting behaviors can have a huge impact on an LGBTQ teen’s mental and physical health, both now and in the future. When parents show their child they are valued, their teens have healthier mental and emotional outcomes. Not unsurprisingly, the CDC reports that parental rejection has been linked to drug and alcohol use, risky sexual behavior, and depression in LGBTQ youths.
As a parent, you can support your LGBTQ teen in many ways:
- Provide support by relating to your child respectfully and without judgement. This begins with you taking the time to come to terms with your child’s sexual orientation when they first tell you about it.
- Talk and listen to your child. Open, honest conversations help your teen feel loved and accepted. By communication openly, you can guide your child into making good decisions that will help them avoid risky sexual behaviors and putting themselves into unsafe situations.
- Stay involved with your child. Knowing their friends, who they are dating, and what they are up to can help your child feel cared for and safe.
- Be proactive and seek out organizations and support groups for your teen (and for yourself, if necessary).
- If you think your child is depressed or in need of mental health support, speak with a school counselor, a social worker, child psychologist or other mental health professional.
Learn More about Supporting Your LGBTQ Teen
For more information about how you can support your LGBTQ youth, contact us.