Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. It affects an estimated 15.7 million adults and 2.8 million adolescents in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Depression affects LGBT people at higher rates than the heterosexual population, and LGBT youths are more likely than heterosexual 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 third leading cause of death among people age 10 to 24 in the United States. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths in grades 7-12 are twice as likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
Adolescence is a difficult time for many young people and can be especially challenging for LGBT youth. Negative attitudes and cultural stigmas put LGBT 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 55 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. LGBT students who experience victimization and discrimination typically have worse grades and don’t perform as well academically.
Challenges for many LGBT youth don't stop when the school bell rings. How a parent responds to their LGBT 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 LGBT and may even throw them out of the house, while other LGBT teens run away from home due to conflict or stress with their parents. Because of this, LGBT youth are also at a greater risk for homelessness than heterosexual youth.
The True Colors Fund states that 1.6 million youths experience homelessness every year and that 40 percent of homeless youths identify as LGBT. This number is even more astounding considering that LGBT youths make up only 7 percent of the youth population. Homeless youths 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 youths. 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
- risky sexual behaviors, such as not using birth control
- suicide or suicide attempts
This study suggests that lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults also have higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders and are at a higher risk for suicidal behavior than heterosexual adults. Depression in lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults is usually rooted in discrimination and victimization from childhood and adolescence. 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 LGBT youths have support, both in school and at home. LGBT youths should feel comfortable and safe in environments that are socially, emotionally, and physically supportive.
Resources to support LGBT teens are still lacking in a lot of schools, but school climate and attitudes toward LGBT youths has improved over the years, according to GLSEN.
The GLSEN report also states that LGBT youths 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 LGBT youth, including:
- implementing clear policies against discrimination and harassment
- fostering support groups, such as gay-straight alliances, and other student clubs
- implementing LGBT topics as part of the curriculum
- having a supportive staff
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:
- be supportive
- be proactive
- stay involved in their teen’s life
Many resources are available online for LGBT youth, including the:
- True Colors Fund
- It Gets Better Project
- American Psychological Association
- Youth Resource
- Human Rights Campaign
Adolescence is a challenging time, and may be even more challenging for LGBT youths because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. They have an increased risk of being discriminated against and harassed, and also an increased risk of physical and mental health issues.
It’s important to remember that you aren’t alone. Attitudes and the social climate toward LGBT people continue to improve, and many resources are available to help LGBT youths and adults face challenges.
If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:
- Call 911 or your local emergency number.
- Stay with the person until help arrives.
- Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
- 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.