Why it is important to talk about LGBTQ+ youth mental health

Out of ten respondents, seven report symptoms of anxiety; six of depression; and five report suicidal thoughts. This stemmed from a survey carried out among LGBTQ+ young people by The Trevor Project. In spite of the advances made regarding rights, the environment is still hostile and accompanying measures are required.

52% of transgender and nonbinary young people in the United States seriously considered the possibility of committing suicide in 2020 during the pandemics. More than half of them thought that it would be better to be dead than living in isolation, lonely, intimidated and being the target of politicians and activists that promote anti-trans laws. This was  found in a survey conducted last May by The Trevor Project, a global organization (the largest of its kind) that works on crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth. In the same study, 72% of LGBTQ+ young people reported symptoms of generalized anxiety and 62% reported symptoms of major depressive disorder.

The survey shows that people in the LGBTQ+ community are more prone to experience anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts. And, according to the results, this is related to the existence (or inexistence) in their communities of laws depriving them of their rights and to the possibility of having access to a change of name according to their assumed identity. Rejection, social discrimination and/or physical damage by friends or family members are the most common triggers that endanger the LGBTQ+ youth mental health. The most vulnerable young people are those who have undergone conversion therapy or who have had someone attempting to convince them to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In view of this reality, symptoms like depression and anxiety may worsen and result in thoughts of suicide over time if no help is received. Thus, talking about mental health in the community is essential. And that is so today more than ever, if we consider that, according to that same survey, 70% of the LGBTQ+ young people reported that their mental health was “bad” most of the time or permanently during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amy Green, research director of The Trevor Project, further explains: “We observe this especially in LGBTQ+ trans and nonbinary youth and LGBTQ+ youth of color.” The construction of sexual identity is inherently related to intersectional factors —biological, social, cultural, psychological factors— which converge in the self-perception of an individual and have an impact on the social role performance of that person. To that regard, Francis Kuehnle, a nurse and gender specialist, claims that the construction of sexual identity in LGBTQ+ young people may be hard to handle as they are not so typical coming of age experiences which add to the traditional psycho-social dilemmas. 

Growing up is not easy, even less for those who are trying to affirm and know their sexual orientation and/or identity or gender expression in hostile environments. 

It Gets Better Argentina, a non-profit organization that seeks to “uplift, empower and connect LGBTQ+ youth around the globe,” broadcasts videos made by teenagers who talk about issues such as isolation and integration, share experiences of discrimination and/or harassment, and tell how they could get over those experiences. This initiative was designed in the United States and also introduced in Chile; it does not specifically target suicide prevention, as The Trevor Project, though such issue is implied as the initiative works with mental health.

Precisely, a study by Unicef on teenage suicide highlights “the virtual communication and the participation of teenagers in the production of messages addressed to their peers in the initiatives to prevent suicidal behaviors.” 

To act upon a reality as that shown by The Trevor Project’s survey it is necessary to address the LGBTQ+ youth’s mental health facilitating environments where such youth may have access to the positive experiences they need. 

Help offered by:

The Trevor Project: It offers free suicide prevention and crisis intervention in the platforms most used by young people. It has a 24/7 hotline, chat, text messages and social media platforms. It also administers the TrevorSpace —the largest safe harbor social media site for LGBTQ+ youth— and runs education, research and LGBTQ+ rights advocacy programs.
Social media:
IG and Twitter: @TrevorProyect
FB: TheTrevorProject

It Gets Better Argentina: A global non-profit organization. Among its participatory initiatives, it broadcasts videos made by teenagers who talk about issues such as isolation and integration, share experiences of discrimination and/or harassment, and tell how they could get over those experiences.
Social media:
IG:@ItGetsBetter/ ItGetsBetterArg. There are country- specific accounts. 
Twitter: @ItGetsBetter/ ItGetsBetterArg. There are country- specific accounts.
FB: ItgetsBetterArgentina

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP): An American organization that works for suicide prevention and accompanies those who have lost a loved one in those circumstances. It proposes community programs to share experiences, fosters online sharing and offers practical resources to talk to people at risk and give support to those who have lost someone. 
Contact: https://afsp.org/about-afsp

Some recommendations

(Sources: Unicef, The Trevor Project)

  • Study the role of institutions in early detection and care (school, policy, protection, health and community environments) and evaluate the mechanisms to register and handle cases related to LGBTQ+ people. 
  • Work in laws and programs that guarantee gender rights and freedom to express one’s identity, such as the change of name and personal identification. 
  • Train professionals to detect and care people in risk of suicide and in assistance to families.
  • Use social media for prevention purposes. Cyberbullying triggers low self-esteem and thoughts of suicide. Thus, an extensive use of social media, in particular, among teenagers and in almost all socioeconomic levels, makes shared messages a supporting tool. These initiatives may be replicated anywhere in the world.
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