Acceptance of and support for the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) community is improving. However, LGBTQ youth are still at higher risk for anxiety, depression, and suicide than their non-LGBTQ peers.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), LGBTQ teens are six times more likely than the general population to experience symptoms of depression. Compared to straight people, they are four times more likely to attempt suicide, have suicidal thoughts, or engage in self-harm.
The LGBTQ mental health disparity can be explained by anti-LGBTQ prejudices and stigmas that can lead to social or familial rejection, harassment, bullying, and even violence. These experiences, in turn, can result in poor mental health.
If you have an LGBTQ child or teen in your life, it can be helpful to learn about the unique mental health challenges they may be experiencing and the resources that exist to help you support them.
Here’s what you should know about LGBTQ youth mental health.
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LGBTQ Youth Mental Health: A Timeline
LGBTQ youth can face unique and magnified mental health challenges from childhood to adolescence.
Keep in mind that not all LGBTQ youth will necessarily suffer from mental health issues. Every person is different, and this timeline might not apply to your child’s unique situation. When LGBTQ youth are supported — by their schools, by their communities, and by their family and friends — they are much more likely to have good mental health.
LGBTQ mental health in childhood
Starting early, LGBTQ youth may feel anxious about potential responses from family members. Parents may be surprised, confused, or upset when a child’s self-expression deviates from what they expected. But LGBTQ children need family acceptance. At this young age, their coping abilities and neurocognitive development aren’t prepared for backlash; they need all the support they can get.
LGBTQ mental health in early adolescence
Puberty is a stressful time for everyone, but this age can be worsened for LGBTQ children by peer rejection, prejudice, or bullying. Many LGBTQ youth are bullied before they even know for themselves what their sexuality or gender identity is.
LGBTQ mental health in late adolescence
In their late teens, many young people approach the process of coming out (disclosing their gender identity or sexual orientation). Just as family support is crucial in childhood, when an LGBTQ child is only starting to explore their identity, family acceptance when a child or teen comes out is critical to their mental health.
NAMI reports that someone who faces rejection after coming out to their family is more than eight times more likely to attempt suicide than someone accepted by their family.
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How to Support LGBTQ Youth Mental Health
Not sure where to start? Begin by learning all that you can about gender identity and sexual orientation. If your child is transgender, learn about and discuss with them medical and non-medical transition options.
You can extend the foundation of support for LGBTQ youth by involving medical care providers who specialize in LGBTQ health care.
For more information on how to best provide support for the LGBTQ child or teen in your life, contact UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital or call 412-624-1000. The Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh also is a center for gender-affirming care in Pittsburgh and the region.
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