Disparities in LGBTQ+ youth mental health have been a growing concern among human services organizations for some time. This group experiences bullying, discrimination, and other forms of abuse more than other populations. As a result, LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk for developing anxiety, depression, and more.
Because of these disparities in mental health outcomes for LGBTQ+ youth, it’s crucial that human services providers understand how to best serve this population. Let’s explore what your organization can do to address the root causes of these mental health concerns and help to improve LGBTQ+ youth mental health.
LGBTQ+ youth mental health risk factors
Study after study has found that LGBTQ+ youth are at significantly higher risk of experiencing mental health issues than their heterosexual (straight) peers. In a 2021 study, 42% of LGBTQ+ youth (and over 50% of transgender youth) reported that they “seriously considered attempting suicide.” Other surveys of this population have found that they are six times more likely to experience depression and two times as likely to experience suicidal ideation.
The prevalence of mental health disorders among LGBTQ+ youth stems from the social stigma that many in this population experience, as well as acts of violence based on these stigmas. The 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance report published by the CDC uncovered startling differences in the experiences of high school-aged youth:
- More than twice as many LGBTQ+ youth experienced dating violence than their heterosexual peers (16.4% vs. 6.7%, respectively).
- More than twice as many LGBTQ+ youth experienced sexual violence than their heterosexual peers (21.5% vs. 9.0%, respectively).
- More than three times as many LGBTQ+ youth had been forced to have sexual intercourse than their heterosexual peers (19.4% vs. 5.5% respectively).
- More than twice as many LGTBQ youth were bullied on school property than their heterosexual peers (32% vs 17.1% respectively).
These and other types of violence against LGBTQ+ youth are largely responsible for the large percentages of mental health disorders reported among this population. Luckily, evidence suggests that proactive steps toward inclusivity and respect can mitigate these negative consequences.
How human services organizations can support LGBTQ+ youth mental health
While there are certainly many risk factors adversely impacting LGBTQ+ youth mental health, there are steps human services organizations can take to counteract these risk factors. Studies have shown that creating safe environments for this population has a positive impact on their mental health. For example, transgender youth who are allowed to change their name and gender on legal documents and have their preferred pronouns respected have reported lower instances of suicidal ideation.
In this section, we’ll explore strategies your organization can use to have this kind of positive impact.
Facilitate LGBTQ+ youth-specific mental health services
In a 2021 study, the Trevor Project found that almost half of LGBTQ+ youth surveyed wanted access to mental health services like counseling but were unable to receive them.
To help improve and safeguard the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth in your community, consider creating LGBTQ+-specific counseling services or act as a facilitator that can help young people get the access to mental health care they want and need.
Facilitating mental health services does not just mean counseling, however. Research has found that schools with LGBTQ+ support groups, alliances, and other safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth, foster much better mental health.
Provide anti-stigma education to local youth
The need for partnership with schools goes beyond the creation of safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth, however. To address the root cause of the bullying, violence, and discrimination this population experiences, schools must provide anti-stigma education.
This is a crucial piece to improving LGBTQ+ youth mental health. Studies have shown that individuals identifying as LGBTQ+ who have experienced stigma find it harder to be open about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and develop risky coping mechanisms like substance use. All of this then adds up to increased risk of poor physical and mental health.
To help reduced the stigma against LGBTQ+ youth in your community, consider creating training services that allow your organization to provide anti-stigma education training to students and teachers. Because not all school systems will be willing or able to host such training, you can provide it to parents and other community providers within your own organization.
Partner with other local organizations
LGBTQ+ youth will also face challenges to their mental health outside of school. Unfortunately, some members of this population will experience stigma at home as well, leading to the difficulties discussed above. This family-based stigma can even lead to extreme cases where LGBTQ+ youth experience physical and psychological abuse, homelessness, food insecurity, and more. To help local youth through these experiences, as well as the mental health repercussions of these traumas, consider partnering with other organizations.
Another step to is to partner with local organizations that address the traumas that often affect LGBTQ+ youth mental health like food insecurity. By partnering with organizations like local food banks, your organization can help clients through their mental health crises as well as help them to address some of the causes of their trauma by ensuring they have food, shelter, and/or a safe space to go after school.
Creating a Trauma-Informed System of Care: Addressing Individuals, Professionals, and Organizations
Trauma-informed care (TIC) has become a widely recognized paradigm for creating safe spaces for individuals who have experienced trauma and reducing the likelihood that accessing services would cause re-traumatization.
Download this e-book to learn: • What trauma is and how it affects different populations • Best practices for addressing trauma with the individuals you serve • Best practices for addressing trauma in your staff, both clinical and non-clinical • How to become a trauma-informed organization, including the key elements of the trauma-informed model of care