Today, adolescents are coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) at higher rates than ever before, and at younger ages. With this trend, public awareness and therapeutic services for LGBTQ individuals have significantly increased. Nonetheless, this population continues to be labeled “high-risk” when it comes to mental health. Although LGBTQ youth experience the same emotional ups and downs that are common to all people, they also face a number of other unique struggles.
LGBTQ Youth and High Risk Mental Health
Statistics show LGBTQ youth are three times more likely than others to develop a mental illness. Although there is no clear answer, LGBTQ youth’s increased risk for mental health struggles may be due to the difficulties these teens may potentially experience such as:
- Anxiety around coming out to friends and loved ones – LGBTQ youth are often fearful of how loved ones will react, and/or fearful of rejection or not being accepted.
- Feeling different – LGBTQ youth (especially those who have yet to come out to friends and family) frequently feel alone, different, or weird. Holding these beliefs can often cause teens to pull away from social situations, instead choosing to isolate.
- Uncertainty regarding sexual orientation and/or gender identity – the adolescent and teen years are a time of development (physically, emotionally, mentally) and exploration, which can be stressful in and of itself. Yet, if a teen is questioning or feeling confused about their sexual preference and/or gender identity, the typical adolescent stress can be hugely exacerbated.
- General stigma around LGBTQ population – the LGBTQ community (and experience) is unfamiliar to many people. The unfamiliar can often breed the unfortunate stigma that leads to bias, prejudice, bullying, etc.
Not only are LGBTQ youth at increased risk for mental health struggles, such as anxiety or depression, but also things like substance abuse and suicide.
LGBTQ Youth: Substance Abuse and Suicide
Within the LGBTQ youth community, the rates of substance and/or alcohol abuse are much higher than other adolescent/teen populations. It is estimated somewhere between 20-30% of LGBTQ teens abuse drugs or alcohol, which is significant when compared to the 10% of the general adolescent and teen population.
Additionally, Studies indicate LGBTQ youth are at a much higher risk for suicidal ideation and committing suicide than youth who do not identify as LGBTQ. In fact, research reveals LGBTQ teens contemplate suicide at three times the rate of heterosexual teens, and somewhere between 40-65% of transgender individuals experience suicidal thoughts.
Supporting Your LGBTQ Teen
Knowing your LGBTQ teen is at an increased risk for mental health struggles can be frightening. While certain things may be out of your control, there are ways you can support your child and promote mental health and overall well-being.
- Educate yourself – this mean learning the terms. There are many different phrases and words used within the LGBTQ community. By knowing the language, you can communicate more effectively with your child and promote increased discussions.
- Listen – let your child know you are available to talk at any time. Affirm and validate your child in whatever it is they are experiencing.
- Speak up – do not tolerate hateful speech. If you hear someone use derogatory language regarding the LGBTQ community, it is OK (and encouraged) to speak up. This is a way to help protect your child, and demonstrate your support.
- Take action – support the LGBTQ community and your child by volunteering at a community event or by educating others.
- Seek outside support – although you and your teen may have a great rapport and an open and honest line of communication, LGBTQ youth sometimes need additional support. Assisting your teen in identifying mental health intervention is a strong way to advocate for your child’s mental health.
Potential Issues in Treating LGBTQ Youth
Finding adequate mental health treatment can be difficult in general. Yet, when it comes to the LGBTQ youth population, there are specific issues that could potentially arise. It is important to be aware of these possibilities, in order to identify effective treatment for your child.
- Stigma in the mental health system – therapists, just like anyone else, are susceptible to judgments, biases, and prejudice. This can breed conscious (or unconscious) reluctance to address the sexuality and/or gender issues needed for successful care.
- Sexuality of mental health professional – research indicates mental health professionals who identify as heterosexual prefer working with clients who also identify as heterosexual.
- Generational gap – older mental health professionals are often not tuned in to the generational differences when working with LGBTQ youth. One of the many distinguishing aspects of LGBTQ teens today is the overall acceptance and expression of fluidity when it comes to gender and/or sexuality.
These potential issues in treating LGBTQ youth have brought some awareness as to how mental health professionals can begin to close the disparity gap. The following guidelines can help mental health professionals provide effective treatment to this population.
- Use inclusive language – for example, instead of a therapist asking a male client “Do you have a wife or girlfriend?” instead asking “are you in a relationship?” This simple shift can make a big difference.
- Normalize sexuality and/or gender identity disclosure(s) – if a client opens up about sexuality and/or gender identity, use encouraging words (i.e. “I’m glad you told me that.”) and ask follow up questions.
- Provide LGBTQ resources – being aware of, and providing LGBTQ resources can help clients feel their provider is knowledgeable and accepting of the LGBTQ community.
- Personal sexuality and gender identity – an effective mental health professional is one that is comfortable with their own sexuality and gender identity.
If you are looking for services for your LGBTQ teen, contact Polaris Teen Center at 1-844-836-0222 to find out more about treatment options.
Polaris Teen Center is a residential treatment facility for teens and adolescents suffering from severe mental health disorders. Our highly accredited facility is fully licensed and certified in Trauma Informed Care and is a part of the Behavioral Health Association of Providers (formerly AATA).