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Survey: 50% of LGBTQ+ Young People Who Want Mental Health Care Are Not Able to Get it

June is Pride month, celebrating the LGBTQ+ community and supporting mental health. Unfortunately, many LGBTQ+ youth face significant barriers to accessing care. This article explores these challenges, effective therapeutic interventions, and the importance of inclusive, supportive environments.

Taylor Stranaghan By Taylor Stranaghan
Fashionable man peeks over statue.

Updated on Jun 10, 2024

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June is Pride month, a time to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and support efforts for a safe, happy, and mentally healthy reality for all.

For many, access to mental health care is a fundamental aspect of our mental and emotional well-being. Unfortunately, many individuals who are at the highest risk of suffering from mental health issues, like LGBTQ+ young people, are facing the greatest barriers in seeking care.

According to The Trevor Project’s 2024 U.S. National Survey on Mental Health and LGBTQ+ Young People, a staggering 50% of those who sought mental health care in the past year were unable to access it. This statistic highlights the significant barriers these individuals are currently facing in their pursuit of support.

Understanding and addressing these mental health treatment gaps is a critical step to ensure LGBTQ+ youth receive the compassionate and affirming care they deserve. Read on as we explore the systemic challenges members of the LGBTQ+ community face, and the beneficial avenues for support necessary for LGBTQ+ youth in this current climate.

Overview of Mental Health Challenges in LGBTQ+ Young People

LGBTQ+ youth, encompassing individuals identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or with diverse gender identities, face disproportionately higher rates of mental health challenges. The LGBTQ+ youth community experiences higher levels of anxiety, depression, and self-harming behaviors compared to their non-LGBTQ+ peers.

The 2024 survey published by The Trevor Project, which takes into account 18,000 youth ages 13 to 24 across the United States, highlights an alarming association between anti-LGBTQ+ victimization and disproportionately high rates of suicide risk. According to Youth.Gov, high school students identifying as LGBTQ+ report two to seven times greater rates of suicide attempts compared to those who identify as heterosexual.

The disparities in LGBTQ+ youth are often exacerbated by various stressors, including:

With the many complications involved, it becomes even more important to create respectful, inclusive, and affirming spaces and communities that prioritize mental well-being for LGBTQ+ youth.

Consequences of Unmet Mental Health Needs

When individuals in need of mental health support and resources are unable to receive these services, the consequences ripple through various aspects of their lives. These consequences permeate into various parts of life, affecting relationships, academic and professional pursuits, and overall quality of life.

Social and Emotional Consequences

The absence of mental health resources for LGBTQ+ youth, such as limited access to affirming support, can lead to heightened feelings of isolation and alienation from peers, families, and communities. Strained relationships with parents, caregivers, and friends can compound these feelings, as LGBTQ+ youth may struggle to communicate their needs effectively.

Further, lack of access can lead to internalized shame and stigma, eroding youth’s self-esteem and heightening their emotional distress. According to a 2021 study, LGBTQ+ youth facing victimization and discrimination targeted at their sexuality may trigger internal stress such as homophobia, expectations of rejection, and identity concealment. Attempting to conceal their LGBTQ+ status and internalizing negative societal views further compounds these challenges.

Left untreated, these challenges may escalate, increasing the risk of mental illness, self-harm, and suicidal ideations.

Impact of Education and Career

A recent article notes upwards of 78-86% of LGBTQ+ students report verbal harassment in school. Further, one in four students in this community is physically attacked on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, which can heighten symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.

Due to these challenges, youth may experience difficulty concentrating, which can impact grade performance, decreased productivity, and issues in retaining information. As a product of lowered academic achievement, LGBTQ+ youth may have limited future educational and career opportunities.

Long-Term Mental and Physical Health Risks

When LGBTQ+ youth are left without the necessary help to navigate their mental health challenges, the long-term risks can be significant.

Without intervention, they face an increased likelihood of developing chronic mental health conditions and engaging in harmful coping mechanisms, such as substance use. Research notes that LGBTQ+ high school students are two to three times more likely to use hard drugs, such as cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamine, and heroin compared to their heterosexual peers.

Beyond experiencing higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, LGBTQ+ youth are also more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors that may lead to an increased incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). For instance, the rates of HIV, gonorrhea, and chlamydia are doubled in sexual minority youth compared to heterosexual men.

Therapeutic Interventions and Support Mechanisms

At the very core, mental health access is a fundamental aspect of our well-being.

This can be achieved by making therapy, school programs, and community support more accessible, inclusive, and tailored to the needs of LGBTQ+ youth and young adults.

Beneficial Therapy Options for LGBTQ+ Youth

Ensuring equitable access to healthcare professionals, such as adolescent mental health counselors, who are informed of LGBTQ+ issues is the first step to providing inclusive and affirming care for LGBTQ+ youth.

Here are a few common therapeutic interventions that are effective for LGBTQ+ young people.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is a widely used therapeutic approach that focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and behaviors to promote positive change. This can be particularly useful for this community as CBT helps address unique stressors, such as discrimination, stigma, shame, and internalized homophobia.

In recent years, LGBTQ+ affirmative CBT has arrived on the scene as a way to explore the unique experiences and identities of LGBTQ+ individuals. This adapted intervention aims to validate and empower LGBTQ+ individuals and respect the diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities within the therapeutic process.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)  is another helpful therapeutic intervention developed to help individuals become more mindful and accepting of their thoughts and feelings, rather than trying to control or stop them. This approach uses mindfulness to help individuals connect with the ‘here and now’, identify their values, and commit to actions that align with these values – even in the present of hardship and emotional distress.

Combining Affirmative Therapy and ACT is a way to navigate identity suppression, address minority stress, and increase feelings of self-acceptance. This integrative approach may be uniquely appropriate for the needs of LGBTQ+ individuals.

According to the American Psychological Association, group therapy is a beneficial approach to help LGBTQ+ individuals cope with unique stressors associated with facing bias and other challenges related to having a minority status.

Feelings related to shame, stigma, and isolation can be effectively addressed in group therapy. This may be due to group therapy offering an inclusive space where individuals may share their experiences openly, knowing their peers both understand and empathize with these same challenges. As such, validation can be incredibly healing for LGBTQ+ youth.

Roles of Schools and Community Centers

Schools and the community must play an active role in creating inclusive and supportive environments for LGBTQ+ young people.

In the school setting, there are several protective factors that can support the well-being of LGBTQ+ students. These include:

Community organizations, local businesses, and public spaces can all contribute to creating supportive environments by implementing inclusive policies and practices. For example, providing access to LGBTQ+ competent healthcare providers and mental health services, hosting activities to celebrate diversity, and accessing alliance programs are all instrumental in promoting inclusivity and acceptance.

For LGBTQ+ youth living in the U.S., some popular resources include:

We encourage individuals to also look online in your area for local LGBTQ+ community support and resources. These platforms can be invaluable for tackling various mental health issues, discussing suicide prevention, addressing concerns related to homelessness, navigating health insurance, and finding safe spaces tailored to the diverse needs and intersectionalities of LGBTQ+ youth.

How Therapy Can Help

Therapy is a powerful tool for addressing the specific needs and nuanced challenges faced by LGBTQ+ youth. Tailored interventions such as LGBTQ+ affirmative therapies are adapted to incorporate culturally competent and sensitive practices that both validate and support the identities of these individuals.

Choosing a therapist who is trained in LGBTQ+ issues and can create a safe, non-judgmental space where youth feel comfortable to explore their thoughts, emotions, feelings, and concerns with ease is imperative to the process.

According to Martinique Moron, a licenced clinical social worker (LCSW) with Grow Therapy, “LGBTQIA youth have diverse backgrounds and experiences. While therapies like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) which focuses on emotional identification and regulation, person-centered therapy which looks to the client as the expert, and somatic therapy which incorporates the mind, body, and spirit into the healing process, can all be helpful, it is essential to find counselors who are culturally competent.”

At Grow Therapy, there are numerous therapy providers specializing in the LGBTQ+ youth community, offering personalized support to explore challenges related to identity. Through psychoeducation, coping strategies, and resilience-building techniques, Grow Therapy providers aim to equip individuals with the tools they need to thrive.

FAQs

  • Some of the most beneficial strategies for helping LGBTQ+ youth with mental health involve providing supportive environments for them to express their identities, listening to them without criticism or judgment, and encouraging them to reach out for therapy and support groups.

  • LGBTQ+ health disparities in youth are driven by many factors including social stigma, discrimination, rejection, and lack of access to supportive and competent resources. To be clear, LGBTQ+ status does not cause mental health problems. Rather, the high rates of mental health needs in LGBTQ+ youth are caused by the stress of living in a majority culture that often includes social stigma, discrimination, rejection, and lack of access to supportive and competent resources.

  • Common LGBTQ+ mental health challenges faced by youth include depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, and substance abuse. These commonly stem from societal pressures, isolation, and other identity-related stressors.

  • Therapy for LGBTQ+ youth provides a supportive environment where they can explore their identity without fear of judgment, learn effective coping strategies for their specific challenges, receive continuous validation and empathy, and improve mental health outcomes.

  • When choosing a therapist, LGBTQ+ youth should consider a mental health professional who is capable of offering a safe and judgment-free space, is both knowledgeable and affirming about LGBTQ+ issues, is culturally competent, and has experience working with this community.

About the author
Taylor Stranaghan Taylor Stranaghan

Taylor is a spirited writer, dedicated to exploring various layers of mental wellness, mindfulness, and personal growth. With a background in clinical research and pursuit of a Master’s in Counselling Psychology, she is passionate about crafting engaging content to empower and uplift individuals navigating their unique mental health journeys.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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