What you will learn at a glance:
Challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ teens & young adults
Cultural intersectional experiences
How to build resilience and find support
A book list
Available resources and support for LGBTQIA+ teens & young adults
It’s time to talk about something important to LGBTQIA+ kids and teens everywhere: mental health. Queer youth face unique mental health challenges every day that leave many feeling down and anxious. In fact, 81% of LGBTQIA+ young people report wanting mental health care in the past year. Let’s examine some of the issues facing LGBTQIA+ youth today, the ways resilience is built, and available resources to support mental well-being.
Challenges Faced by LGBTQIA+ Teens & Young Adults
Being an LGBTQIA+ youth comes with unique challenges that can impact mental health. Studies and recent reports show that many queer young people face higher rates of mental health struggles compared to cisgender (those who identify with their assigned gender at birth) or heterosexual (straight) peers, such as:
There are many factors that contribute to these struggles. These include:
Prejudice and Discrimination
Bullying, Including Cyberbullying
Lack of Acceptance
Anti-LGBTQIA+ Victimization (threats of conversion therapy, violence, sexual assault)
Lack of Access to Affirming Care
Anti-LGBTQIA+ Policy and Legislation
For example, when LGBTQIA+ identity is not included in school lessons, it can deeply affect the self-esteem, self-worth, and mental well-being of queer kids and teens.
Acceptance is crucial to fighting the challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ youth. LGBTQIA+ youth who had access to affirming homes, schools, community events, and online spaces reported lower rates of attempting suicide compared to those who did not. Affirming gender identity for gender expansive (gender non-conforming) youth such as Trans, Non-Binary, or Two Spirit young people also results in consistently lower suicide attempts.
82% of LGBTQIA+ youth reported that if people in their lives knew more about support and acceptance of the queer experience, it would be helpful to them feeling more included and accepted overall.
Building Resilience and Seeking Support
Despite these challenges, LGBTQIA+ youth are incredibly resilient. They often find strength within themselves, and through the support of others. Online communities play an especially important role in the lives of queer youth. 50% of LGBTQIA+ youth have at least one close online friend, compared to 19% of non-LGBTQIA+ youth. It helps provide a space for connection with peers who understand their experiences. It also offers support and validation that may be denied or unavailable in real life. These online spaces can become sources of empowerment. They also help queer youth develop a sense of belonging to combat feelings of isolation. Some ways LGBTQIA+ young people connect online include:
Chat rooms and forums
Social media platforms and apps, like YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, etc.
It should be noted that LGBTQIA+ youth may face an increased risk of bullying or harassment online. They can also be exposed to negative content and imaging that reaffirms anti-queer bias and stigma. It’s important that queer youth are able to access affirming but safe online spaces, as well as practice online safety.
In addition to online communities, queer youth can find guidance and support from professionals like therapists and counselors who specialize in LGBTQIA+ issues. Peer support groups, school clubs/organizations, and after-school activities can also play an important role in building a supportive network that helps LGBTQIA+ kids and teens feel seen and included.
Cultural Intersectional Experiences
It’s important to recognize that the experiences of LGBTQIA+ youth are not the same for everyone. Intersectionality, which is the overlap of different identities, can further influence mental health. Recent reports show that LGBTQIA+ youth of color face unique challenges related to:
Native and Indigenous LGBTQIA+ youth particularly face erasure of their identities, and struggle with limited resources and support.
Understanding these intersecting identities, and the specific challenges they bring, is critical to providing effective support and care for all LGBTQIA+ youth.
Available Resources and Support for LGBTQIA+ Teens & Young Adults
Fortunately, there are a large number of resources available for LGBTQIA+ youth to help navigate their mental health journey. Organizations like The Trevor Project offer helplines, text chats, and online resources specifically for LGBTQIA+ youth. GLSEN also provides online resources, and important information on how to create inclusive and supportive school spaces. Check with your school counselor to see if you have a gay straight alliance (GSA) group in your school or start one if you don't. Additionally, LGBTQIA+ youth can seek support from:
Local community organizations
Peer support groups
Professional therapists and counselors
Accepting family and friends
Local LGBTQIA+ Community Centers
When it comes to supporting the mental health and well-being of LGBTQIA+ youth, establishing a solid support network is key. It can also help to have resources, tools and guides on self-care, building resilience, and seeking support for themselves and friends. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help and reach out when needed.
The mental, emotional and physical well-being of LGBTQIA+ youth is critical. By recognizing the challenges young queer folks face, we can all better address these issues. Together, we can create a world where mental health is prioritized, and where all LGBTQIA+ youth can thrive in acceptance and celebration of who they are.