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Recognition Matters: New Data Reveals Acceptance Vital For LGBTQ Youth Mental Health

July 15, 2020

Nicole Fisher 

Adolescence and early adulthood are critical developmental periods. Mental, emotional, social and physical changes occur during that time literally defining who we are and how we interact with the world around us. However, the safety and security to learn about ourselves and others comes from experiences, relationships and acceptance by those we love.

And while there is extensive research underscoring how important mental and emotional health are in young people, particularly as suicide has become the second leading cause of death among young people in the U.S., there has been shockingly little exploration of the unique challenges that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) youth face. This is particularly true for understanding discrimination, disparities and how those lead to increased anxiety, depression and suicide.

Given the great need for richer and more comprehensive data and support for these youth, The Trevor Project – the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people – saw no better time to launch its new National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2020. This effort, representing experiences of more than 40,000 LGBTQ youth across the U.S., became even more important as several crises in early 2020 are certain to have impacted youth mental health.

High-level results of the survey suggest the LGBTQ community faces considerable hardships receiving the emotional, mental and physical care that they need and deserve. For example, a majority of respondents experienced symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder (68% and 55%, respectively), while 48% reported engaging in self-harm in the past 12 months. But, findings also emphasize just how much progress can be made by accepting youth for who they are and making informed changes to our health system. Through research, advocacy, education, and dynamic changes to health care access in early 2020, there is reason to be hopeful. According to Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project, “Discussions people were not previously having in the national discourse are now being had. And, the more honest conversations, the better.”

Words Matter

When The Trevor Project began in the 1990s it was a crisis hotline focused on gay and lesbian 13-24-year-olds. But since that time, the number of programs and resources have grown to meet the needs of the diverse youth it serves. This now includes several 24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention programs, as well as the world’s largest safe space social networking site for LGBTQ youth: TrevorSpace. And, in 2020 it incorporates the second annual National Survey to better understand and grasp the disproportionate impact suicide has on LGBTQ youth.

The overall results highlight that support systems work to improve and save lives. But, those support systems need to affirm identity and provide personal and environmental support – which means recognizing and accepting youth for who they are, where they are. In fact, those who reported having pronouns respected by all or most people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected. Tools that provide affirmation for sexual orientation also decrease the likelihood of general anxiety, depression and suicide.

In contrast, unfortunately the results suggest that negative associations and recent political actions and terminology have harmed overall well-being. As has lack of psychological and/or emotional counseling from a mental health professional when it was wanted. In the past 12 months alone, almost 50% of LGBTQ youth reported they were unable to receive mental health care they desired. Further, six out of 10 participants said those close to them have tried to convince them to change their sexual orientation or gender identity – with 35% saying that person was a parent or caregiver.

2020 Results

No one can say 2020 hasn’t been a year of great change. And thus, the survey grew between year one (2019) and year two, to reflect new information and dynamic situations. For example, this year looked into school and other places that youth spend their time, and more deeply into the people (from parents to celebrities) that influence adolescent and young adult behavior. Some of the key 2020 takeaways are as follows:

– 1 in 3 LGBTQ youth reported that they had been physically threatened or harmed in their lifetime due to their LGBTQ identity. And, those who faced discrimination or physical harm due to their sexual orientation or gender identity were more likely to attempt suicide.

– 40% of LGBTQ youth and more than 50% of transgender and nonbinary youth report having seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months.

– Only 13% of youth who reported high levels of support from family, friends, or a special person reported attempting suicide in the past year compared to 22% of those with lower levels of support.

– Sadly, 29% of LGBTQ youth have experienced homelessness, been kicked out, or run away. More than 50% of transgender and nonbinary youth state being kicked out or running away was due to their LGBTQ identity.

– 68% of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in the past two weeks and 55% of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of major depressive disorder in the past two weeks.

– 46% of youth reported they wanted mental health care but were unable to receive it in the past year. Further, 40% of LGBTQ youth reported they were unable to receive care due directly to concerns with parental permission.

– Nearly 50% of transgender and nonbinary youth didn’t receive wanted mental health care due to concerns related to the LGBTQ competence of providers.

– 10% of LGBTQ youth reported undergoing conversion therapy, with 78% reporting it occurred when they were under age 18. Additionally, those who experienced conversion therapy attempted suicide at more than twice the rate as those who did not.

– 48% of LGBTQ youth reported engaging in self-harm in the past 12 months, including over 60% of transgender and nonbinary youth.

– Over 80% of youth said that celebrities who are LGBTQ positively impact how they feel about being LGBTQ.

– Conversely, 86% of LGBTQ youth said that recent politics have negatively impacted their well-being.

Moving Forward

Results from both years of the survey suggest, “Greater levels of support and acceptance is associated with dramatically lower rates of attempting suicide. This includes the powerful role of gender-affirming care and support for transgender and nonbinary youth,” says Dr. Amy Green, Director of Research at The Trevor Project. But Amit goes on to note the data collected serves not only as a means of understanding where we are, but also identifying ways to change systems of care in addition to environments and policy.

Further, as the Covid-19 pandemic rages on in the U.S., the intersection of health-related issues such as depression, anxiety and homelessness that are more common in the LGBTQ community must be addressed as they are compounded by the changing health landscape. For example, as Dr. Green points out, “School or college can often be a source of acceptance for LGBTQ young people. And now, they don’t have that. But hopefully, changes to mental health care will improve and there will be greater acceptance in other settings.”

Given how limited previous research has been on the disproportionate needs of the LGBTQ community, findings could carry significant advocacy and policy implications for LGBTQ youth. By increasing data collection, leaders can better identify and implement effective policies that will expand access to and improve mental health care, ultimately saving lives.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678678.

Article from https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicolefisher/2020/07/15/recognition-matters-new-data-reveals-acceptance-vital-for-lgbtq-youth-mental-health/?utm_content=4219b8eeba2ac627a80dd33dbe14a9a3&utm_campaign=MHH%2012%2F14%2F19&utm_source=Robly.com&utm_medium=email#6b4d95f81f36

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