About 41% of LGBTQ+ youth in the U.S. say they’ve seriously considered suicide in the last year — and about 66% say that anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has negatively affected their mental health, according to the 2023 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People conducted by The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ youth anti-suicide organization.
The aforementioned statistics are concerning — especially considering Republicans’ unprecedented wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and rhetoric. Nearly one in three LGBTQ+ young people said their mental health was poor “most of the time” or “always” due to anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. However, the survey also revealed ways to improve young queer people’s mental health.
Among suicidal survey respondents, those who identified as transgender, nonbinary, and/or people of color reported higher rates of suicidal ideation than their peers. About 67% of LGBTQ+ young people reported symptoms of anxiety over the last year, and 54% of LGBTQ+ young people reported symptoms of depression over the same span. Rates of anxiety and depression were, on average, 18.5% higher among trans, nonbinary, and questioning youth than among cisgender youth.
Dr. Ronita Nath, vice president of research at The Trevor Project, told The Daily Beast, “On top of a growing mental health crisis among the nation’s youth, we’re also negotiating an increasingly hostile political climate that has tragically placed LGBTQ young people at the center of a political wedge issue, which is having a detrimental toll on their mental health.”
Even worse, while 81% of LGBTQ+ young people said they wanted mental healthcare, 56% said they weren’t able to access it. While a majority feared discussing their mental health issues with their parents or other adults, others couldn’t afford it, couldn’t get their parent’s permission, or avoided getting counseling for fear of being outed or not being understood by mental health providers.
In addition to the mental distress, 51% of LGBTQ+ young people and 64% of trans and nonbinary young people reported feeling discriminated against in the past year due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, respectively. Additionally, 24% of LGBTQ+ young people and 27% of trans and nonbinary young people reported being physically threatened or harmed in the past year due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, respectively.
Studies show ways to protect LGBTQ+ youth’s mental health
However, the survey also found that LGBTQ+ young people who had access to affirming homes, schools, community events, and online spaces reported lower rates of suicidality and mental distress compared to those who didn’t.
School anti-harassment policies, LGBTQ+-straight alliances, and teacher training can assist in improving school environments for queer students, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wrote in its biannual Youth Risk Behavior Survey report, released in February. The CDC also suggested that schools might consider collaborating with community organizations and stakeholders to implement comprehensive violence and suicide prevention strategies.
“Safe and trusted adults — like mentors, trained teachers, and staff — can help foster school connectedness, so that teens know the people around them care about them, their well-being, and their success,” the CDC wrote. “Schools can provide education that equips teens with essential skills, such as understanding and ensuring true sexual consent, managing emotions, and asking for what they need.”
The Trevor Project’s survey also found that rates of suicidality and mental distress among transgender and nonbinary young people declined among those who had their pronouns respected and those who had access to gender-neutral bathrooms and binders, shapewear, and gender-affirming clothing that help those with gender dysphoria to align the appearance of their body with their gender identity.
LGBTQ+ youth also said that they’d feel better if others learned the basics of LGBTQ+ identities, pronouns, creating safer spaces, micro-aggressions, and racism.
“Parents, schools, and peers need to do more about this, so these young people feel more supported at home and school… When young LGBTQ people are affirmed, they thrive,” Dr. Nath added. She also said that she’d like to see more legislation protecting LGBTQ+ young people’s rights to access queer educational resources, bathrooms, and gender-affirming care. The survey’s respondents said such legislation improves their feelings of well-being.
Last, the survey asked about young people accessing gender-affirming care. 11% trans and nonbinary young people reported being on gender-affirming hormones, and only 2% reported taking puberty blockers. Of those undergoing hormone therapy, 65% were somewhat or very concerned about losing access to this care.
The online survey questioned 28,524 LGBTQ+ young people ages 13 to 24 between September 1 and December 12, 2022.
Editor’s note: This article mentions suicide. If you need to talk to someone now, call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. It’s staffed by trans people, for trans people. The Trevor Project provides a safe, judgement-free place to talk for LGBTQ youth at 1-866-488-7386. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.