Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States. It affects an estimated 17.3 million adults and 3.2 million adolescents in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Depression affects LGBTQIA+ folks at higher rates than straight and cisgender folks. LGBTQIA+ youth are more likely than straight students to report high levels of drug use and feelings of depression.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 34 in the United States. In 2019, around 23 percent of LGB youth attempted suicide versus 6 percent of heterosexual youth.

Adolescence is a difficult time for many young people and can be especially challenging for LGBTQIA+ youth. Negative attitudes and cultural stigmas put LGBTQIA+ youth at a higher risk for bullying, teasing, and physical violence than their heterosexual peers.

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) released a report in 2013 on LGBT youth that states the following:

  • Fifty-five percent of LGBT youth feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 37 percent feel unsafe because of their gender expression.
  • Seventy-four percent of LGBT youth were verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation, and 56 percent were verbally harassed because of their gender expression.
  • Sixteen percent were physically assaulted — either punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon — because of their sexual orientation, and 11 percent of them experienced this type of assault because of their gender expression.

A hostile school environment affects a student’s performance in school and their mental health. LGBTQIA+ students who experience victimization and discrimination typically have worse grades and don’t perform as well academically.

Challenges for many LGBTQIA+ youth don’t stop when the school bell rings. How a parent responds to their LGBTQIA+ teen can have a tremendous impact on their child’s current and future mental and physical health.

Many parents react negatively upon learning that their teen is LGBTQIA+ and may even throw them out of the house, while other LGBTQIA+ teens run away from home due to conflict or stress with their parents. Because of this, LGBTQIA+ youth are also at a greater risk for homelessness than non-LGBTQIA+ youth.

The True Colors Fund states that 4.2 million youth experience homelessness every year and that 40 percent of these homeless youth are LGBTQ. This number is even more astounding considering that LGBT people make up only 7 percent of the youth population.

These young people experiencing homelessness are at a greater risk for discrimination, victimization, and mental health issues than those who aren’t homeless.

According to the CDC, stresses experienced by LGBT youth put them at a greater risk for mental health problems and other health risks than heterosexual youth. These health risks include:

  • behaviors that contribute to violence, such as carrying a weapon or getting in fights
  • behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries, such as driving without a seatbelt or driving drunk
  • tobacco, alcohol, or other drug use
  • sexual behaviors, such as not using birth control or barrier methods
  • depression
  • suicide or suicide attempts

One 2011 study suggests that LGB adults also have higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders and are at a higher risk for suicidal behavior than heterosexual adults.

Depression in LGB adults is usually rooted in discrimination, stigma, and victimization from childhood and adolescence. According to a 2015 report, 20 percent of transgender people avoided or postponed receiving healthcare out of fear of discrimination. More comprehensive research on transgender people is still lacking.

Some research aims to study depression in older gay men. It examines cognitive behavioral therapy, its benefits, and how effective it is for gay men over the age of 60.

Support can begin in childhood and adolescence. It’s important that LGBTQIA+ youth have support, both in school and at home. All LGBTQIA+ people should feel comfortable and safe in environments that are socially, emotionally, and physically supportive.

School

Resources to support LGBTQIA+ teens are still lacking in a lot of schools, but school climate and attitudes have improved over the years, according to GLSEN.

The GLSEN report also states that LGBT youth who have access to support do better in school. Schools can do a number of things to make the environment safer and more supportive of LGBTQIA+ youth, including:

  • implementing clear policies against discrimination and harassment
  • fostering support groups, such as gay-straight alliances, and other student clubs
  • implementing LGBTQIA+ topics as part of the curriculum
  • having a supportive staff

Home

Parents should be willing to talk openly with their teen about any problems they’re having at home or school and be watchful for signs of bullying or violence. Parents should:

  • talk
  • listen
  • be supportive
  • be proactive
  • stay involved in their teen’s life

Resources

Many resources are available online for LGBTQIA+ youth, including:

If you think someone is at immediate risk of harming themselves or another person:

  • Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or healthcare professional. Consider calling 911 or your local emergency number if you can’t get in touch with them.
  • If possible, remove any weapons, substances, or other things that may cause harm.
  • Stay with the person until help arrives.
  • Listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.

If you think someone is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, the SAMHSA National Helpline at 800-662-4357, or text “HOME” to 741741.

Adolescence is a challenging time and can be even more challenging for LGBTQIA+ youth because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. They are at an increased risk of experiencing discrimination and harassment, and also an increased risk of physical and mental health issues, such as depression.

It’s important to remember that you aren’t alone. While attitudes and the social climate continue to improve, many resources are available to help LGBTQIA+ youth and adults face challenges and find support.