The 21st century has proven to be the era of social awareness. Whether it be due to the growth of open media coverage and access or the shifting perception of how present and involved we should be as members of the public, it cannot be argued that there has been an increase in recognition surrounding the issues that disenfranchised communities face on a daily basis. Mental Health Awareness and Advocacy has become a focal point for many, particularly amongst millennials and Gen Zers.
However, while sentiments about mental health recognition seem to be improving at large, studies show that members of LGBTQ+ communities are still being disproportionately affected by mental health disorders, especially queer teenagers and young adults. Recently published studies have shown an uptick in depression and anxiety among gay young adults, an unprecedented development considering the supposed progressiveness of most modern societies.
While studies only focusing on gay mental health are few and far between, The Trevor Project, a non profit advocacy groups for LGBTQ+, recently published their first survey on mental health within youth queer communities, collecting over 34,000 responses from youth between the ages of 13-24 in all 50 states.
Among the most shocking statistics, over 71% of participants reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in the past year, a tell-tale sign of depression.
With reports of non-supportive family members and physical/mental abuse from peers and community members, it comes as no surprise that 39% of LGBTQ youth reported having seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, with more than half of surveyed transgender and non-binary youth having seriously considered or attempted it in that same time frame. These statistics were found to be even higher in groups that had been subject to conversion therapy, a dangerous and increasingly banned practice that attempts to force a change in sexual orientation or gender identity, with 57% of those surveyed individuals having reported one or more suicidal attempts.
How do these numbers compare? It is hard to tell exactly, as sexual orientation and gender identity questions are not asked on most national or state surveys, making it difficult to estimate the number of LGBTQ individuals that report mental health issues versus those reported by straight individuals.
It could very well be that the impending gay mental health crisis is a large contributor to the overall 33% increase in suicide between 1999 and 2017, as reported by the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, making the national suicide rate the highest it has ever been since World War II.
On the few occasions that mental health reports do record separate data for queer and straight respondents, the statistical differences have been troubling. Research suggests that LGBT individuals face health disparities linked to societal stigma, discrimination, and denial of their civil and human rights, from hate crimes ranging from being denied care from medical professionals to being beaten and/or murdered for their gender identity or sexuality. Discrimination against LGBT persons has been associated with high rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, and suicide. A 1999 study found that LGBTQ+ youth are 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide. 20 years later, there seems to be little improvement. The data offers a very real and quite saddening look into the reality of queer youth, and despite the leaps and bounds made in regards to LGBTQ+ centric legislature, there are still overwhelming reports of gender/sexual orientation-based discrimination, depression, abuse, and suicidal thoughts/attempts.
It should be mentioned that elevated rates of suicidal considerations/attempts are not the result of being queer, but rather the impact of being queer in a non-accepting society, particularly in the current American political climate. From issues such as the attempted rollbacks on LGBTQ+ rights in the US and in various countries around the world to the controversial and increasingly disputed Trans Military Ban, many in LGBTQ+ communities are having their mental health jeopardized by the current state of affairs. All of the information gathered points to one harsh truth—the mental health crisis with the LGBTQ+ community is worse than ever.