It seems that hospital beds and emergency rooms are bursting at the seams with kids in crisis — for their mental health. Once admitted to the emergency room, kids may wait several days for a hospital bed. Furthermore, wait times are as long as two weeks (or more) for psychiatric hospital beds.
Lack of family support, bullying at school, and discriminatory laws contribute to the worsening state of LGBTQ+ person's mental health.
Suicide rates for LGBTQ+ youth are alarmingly high compared to their straight counterparts. Additionally, BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth are even more at risk.
Isolation from COVID-19 and anti-trans legislation worsened LGBTQ+ youth's mental health status.
The antidote is queer joy through the inclusion of diversity and acceptance of all gender expressions.
For LGBTQ+ youth, these alarming trends are even more apparent. When it comes to the LGBTQ+ youth mental health crisis, the antidote is queer joy. However, society, bullying, and anti-trans laws have a detrimental effect.
LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk for suicide. Yet, LGBTQ+ youth are not inherently more likely to be suicidal. It's the societal climate in the home, school, and environment that raises LGBTQ+ youth suicide rates alarmingly high. Queer joy and visibility can help reduce suicides and increase well-being for LGBTQ+ youths of all races and ethnicities.
National mental health trends
Current trends that affect LGBTQ+ mental health include isolation from COVID-19 and anti-trans legislation.
The isolation from COVID-19 meant many LGBTQ+ youths were stuck at home. Without interaction from supportive peers, friends, and teachers, being confined to a non-supportive household has detrimental effects.
Suicide ideation among LGBTQ+ youth increased by 5% from 2019 to 2021. In 2019, 40% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered suicide. That number jumped to 45% in 2021.
Across the nation, anti-trans laws are being passed at a frightening rate. For example, the "don't say gay bill" in Florida prohibits students and teachers from saying the word "gay" in public settings. It's so extreme that officials instructed LGBTQ+ teachers to remove photos of their spouses from their desks. The eradication of physical, visible queerness is the opposite of what LGBTQ+ youth desperately need — to be seen and accepted.
Suicide risk, mental health, and race
LGBTQ+ youth are at increased risk for depression and anxiety. Therefore, their suicide rate, ideation, and attempts are higher than their straight peers. Furthermore, for non-white races and ethnicities, the risk of suicide is even higher. Discrimination faced by BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color) LGBTQ+ youth is twofold, for queerness and race.
Statistics show that more than half (52%) of LGBTQ+ youth are BIPOCs. Therefore, for LGBTQ+ youth to feel fully supported, diversity and inclusion in media, events, and safe spaces are vital. For example, black LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to live in lower-income households. These socioeconomic factors lead to a scarcity of supportive resources. Therefore, black LGBTQ+ youth need representation and celebration of diversity more than ever. Lack of minority representation is associated with higher risks of violence. On the contrary, when minority representation is present, acceptance usually follows.
While all LGBTQ+ youth are alarmingly susceptible to suicide, the percentages are much higher for POCs (people of color). One study showed the lifetime suicide attempt rate in LGBTQ patients was 69.6%, compared to 43.6% of non-LGBTQ patients. For LGBTQ patients of color, lifetime suicide attempt rates were 91.3%.
Still, over half of all LGBTQ+ youth experienced depression, and nearly 75% experienced anxiety. Alarmingly, 60% of LGBTQ youth who wanted mental health care did not receive it. In addition, most LGBTQ+ kids want mental health care — a whopping 82%, according to the Trevor Project.
Solutions to the mental health crisis
Visibility, support, and inclusion drastically reduce suicides among LGBTQ+ youth. This includes support from friends and family, anti-bullying policies in schools, and queer visibility in the media.
Antitrans laws, which make transgender youth worried about bathroom use, sports, and medical care, need to be eliminated. These fundamental rights and access to leisure should not be politicized. The experience of trans youth is severely at risk because of society, not because of being trans.
When kids see LGBTQ+ characters in television programs or movies, or witness celebrities come out, it is an affirming experience. Being able to do everyday things, like taking care of house plants and going to drag shows, make LGBTQ+ youth feel seen and heard. This is why representation, inclusion, and visibility are essential.
More ways LGBTQ+ youth feel validated and accepted:
- Access to all-gender restrooms.
- Access to gender-affirming hormones.
- Access to binders and expressing gender authentically.
- Correct use of pronouns by family, friends, and society.
Correct use of pronouns makes a huge difference. Trans and nonbinary youth whose pronouns were respected were 50% less likely to consider suicide.
A study showed suicide risk is much lower when kids live in an affirming space with supportive family and caregivers. Support from parents via communication and working together to navigate challenges significantly impacted LGBTQ+ youth's mental health. Parents can help by respecting their kid's processes in terms of gender and identity.
Parents can help their kids focus on positive goals, such as:
- Doing well in school.
- Maintaining physical and psychological health.
- Pursuing projects and activities that make them happy.
Anti-bullying laws in schools also play an essential yet underfunded role in reducing suicide and mental health crisis in LGBTQ+ youth. However, unfortunately, anti-LGBTQ+ laws worsen bullying.
In recent years, the proposal of over 240 anti-LGBTQ+ bills has prevented LGBTQ+ students from basic dignities. Many prohibit trans students from using the bathroom or locker room that matches their identity. Many prevent trans women and girls from participating in sports. These discriminatory policies at state levels enforce restrictive consequences in the curriculum.
According to the Trevor Project, support at school, home, and LGBTQ+-affirming social spaces significantly reduces suicide rates for LGBTQ+ youth. Acceptance is key to better mental health.
Ways LGBTQ+ youth feel better:
- Learning about LGBTQ history to understand their origins.
- Supportive teachers and mentors.
- Having a safe space to express gender, gender identity, and sexuality.
- LGBTQ inclusion on campus through clubs and events.
- Being allowed to live as their authentic self.
Despite these unfavorable circumstances, one thing continues to persist. In the face of hardship, unrelenting queer joy overpowers all. The antidote to LGBTQ+ youth's mental health crisis is celebration, visibility, and inclusion. When LGBTQ+ youth feel like they can authentically be themselves at home, school, and the world at large, their mental health improves. There is a solution to decreasing LGBTQ+ youth suicide rates: respect and acceptance. It's as simple as examining your own bias and as complex as focused social change.