Depression in LGBTQ Youth

Why mental health within the LGBTQ community is an issue that everyone needs to address

Patient Expert

People within the LGBTQ community have a much higher chance of experiencing mental health challenges than the general public. It’s a significant societal problem that we have been ignoring for years. While some progress has been made, statistics show that so much more needs to be done, especially for youth in the LGBTQ community.

Why we need to address depression among the LGBTQ community

The LGBTQ community is not a small percentage of our population. And even if it were, we should still be looking to support them in treating their mental health challenges. In fact, the third annual Accelerating Acceptance report conducted by GLAAD found that from those surveyed 20 percent of millennials identify as LGBTQ. That was the highest percentage of any generation that was interviewed prior. In addition, the results of a study by J. Walter Innovation Group  found, “only 48 percent of 13-20-year-olds identify as ‘exclusively heterosexual’.”

These findings indicate that social acceptance must be on the rise, in some form or another, for so many LGBTQ individuals to feel comfortable in coming out. They also tell us that we can’t continue to ignore the compounded challenges that these individuals are facing. Mental health within the LGBTQ community is an issue that everyone needs to address, not just those that are part of the LGBTQ community.

Some sobering statistics on LGBTQ depression

Let me hit you with some facts from the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) website. As you read over these statistics, I really want you to think about what they mean for our society.

  • LGBTQ individuals are almost three times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition such as major depression or generalized anxiety disorder. This fear of coming out and being discriminated against for sexual orientation and gender identities can lead to depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, thoughts of suicide and substance abuse.
  • An estimated 20-30 percent of LGBTQ people abuse substances, compared to about 9 percent of the general population.
  • 25 percent of LGBT people abuse alcohol, compared to 5-10 percent of the general population.
  • Someone who faced rejection after coming out to their families were more than eight times more likely to have attempted suicide than someone who was accepted by their family after revealing their sexual orientation.

These statistics show that while people may feel more comfortable sharing that they don’t identify as heterosexual, they continue to suffer once they have come out. The world is continuing to lose loved ones and friends because of lack of acceptance for who they are.

The unique social challenges that youth face

LGBTQ youth face challenges that are unique to their situation. Therefore, it's crucial that we better understand these challenges. It’s the only way we can make a difference in lowering the statistics that we read above.

In an email interview with HealthCentral, Nick Fager, a psychotherapist who specializes in LGBTQ mental health in New York City, explained that the LGBTQ community “doesn’t just experience the negative effects of stigma and discrimination from our communities and the greater system, but also from within our own homes.” He talked about the destructive seeds of discrimination and confusion planted at a young age. “Since we usually don’t have someone there to explain to us at an early age that nothing is wrong with us and the problem is in the external world,” he said, “we end up internalizing a lot of the negative messages about LGBTQ people.”

According to Fager, the result is that “we learn to hide and repress essential parts of ourselves in order to survive, and that can make reaching out for help and being vulnerable very challenging.” Fager believes this sense of aloneness and lack of support is at the heart of the mental health disparities for LGBTQ youth.

Why LGBTQ stigma is unique

Most young people are usually supported within the walls of their own home when it comes to pretty much any other stigma, such as those around mental health challenges and physical disabilities. Youth who are victims of bullying often receive respite, comfort, and encouragement. Sadly, LGBTQ youth are often rejected and ridiculed by their own family, which no doubt contributes to such a high suicide rate among them.

What we can do to for the LGBTQ community

We should never make youth, or anyone else, feel like their self-worth and value depends on the identity of their gender. If you know a young person that has come out or that you think is struggling, remember the following:

  • Give them the space to share their story.
  • Do not make assumptions.
  • Help them connect with other youth from the LGBTQ community. Knowing others like them will help them feel less alone.
  • Encourage them to explore their own identity through therapy. Local LGBTQ centers often offer free or discounted treatment.
  • Help them find a safe place to stay if they are they not supported within their home.

Fager, who is also the co-founder of Lighthouse, helps people to transition their shame into pride and to cultivate authenticity. Lighthouse matches LGBTQ individuals with nearby, LGBTQ-specialized healthcare providers. “If you’re a queer looking for a therapist, doctor, dentist, surgeon who understands your experience,” explains Fager, “you simply have to go to our website and do a quick search. All of our professionals have devoted their careers to our community and are accepting new clients.”

What we need to do as a society for LGBTQ youth

Here are some general changes that we need make in our society, whether you know someone in the LGBTQ community or not:

  • Increase the visibility of support for the community. A simple way to this is displaying more rainbows in public places like storefronts.
  • Provide education to teachers, coaches, and others in youth leadership positions. Teach them the right language to use and how to encourage groups to come together.
  • Create more Genders & Sexualities Alliances (GSAs) within schools. These student-led groups help break down the barriers and remove the stigma around the LGBTQ community.

What to do if you are struggling as a LGBTQ youth

Seek out someone to talk to that will support you. If you are experiencing signs of depression, do not ignore it. You have so much to offer this world. Do not let those with small minds that don't understand you get in the way of YOU being YOU!