Youth at Risk II: LGBTQ+ Mental Health in the Spotlight

LGBTQ+ is an acronym that encompasses different forms of gender identity and sexual expression, including: lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, and more. LGBTQ+ individuals are more than twice as likely as heterosexual people to have a mental health disorder in their lifetime and 2.5 times as likely to access mental health services.[1]

Although being LGBTQ+ is not a mental illness, many LGBTQ+ people experience mental health struggles, often due to shame, fear, discrimination, and adverse and traumatic events due to their gender identity or sexual expression.

While belonging to the LGBTQ+ community can be a source of strength and resilience, it is also accompanied by unique challenges, with young LGBTQ+ individuals being at the highest risk of experiencing mental health struggles. LGBTQ+ individuals who also belong to another minority group face the highest levels of mental illness and suicidal ideation. It is particularly important for us to understand how intersecting issues can affect young people so that we can best support those who may be the most vulnerable.

A Look at the Data

The CDC’s[2] recent report detailing the concerning state of mental health and risky behavior among high school students in America consistently highlights the intensified challenges that LGBTQ+ students face. For instance, it indicates that more than 20% of LGBTQ+ students attempted suicide, and 70% experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

Other studies reaffirm these worrying findings. The Trevor Project, a charity that focuses on suicide prevention efforts for LGBTQ+ youth, has captured the experiences of almost 34,000 LGBTQ+ youth ages 13 to 24 across the United States in their 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health. The findings paint a picture of increased persecution and shame, barriers to support, and high rates of suicide. The reports found that 45% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, and almost 1 in 5 (20%) transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide.[3] These rates were higher for LGBTQ+ youth of color compared to their white peers. For Native/Indigenous LGBTQ+ youth, 55% had considered suicide in the past year, and 21% had attempted suicide.

According to the Trevor Project, 73% of LGBTQ+ youth reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety, and 58% of LGBTQ+ youth reported experiencing symptoms of depression.

Perhaps most concerningly, both data from the CDC and the Trevor Project show rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation to be steadily increasing. The Trevor Project reports that symptoms of anxiety and suicidal ideation have increased by 5% since 2020.3

Risk Factors for LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health

Research suggests that LGBTQ+ people face health disparities that are linked to discrimination, social stigma, and civil and human rights denial. Discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals and communities is associated with high rates of psychiatric disorders, substance use disorders, and suicide.[4]

There are certain areas and life stages in which LGBTQ+ youth face particular issues.

Coming Out

Coming out is the term for sharing your sexual or gender identity with people. Many people experience a great deal of stress, anxiety, shame, and confusion around this time. Although social acceptance is changing, it is essential to recognize that for many young people, sharing their identity with their friends or family is risky. They could face bullying, ignorance, lack of acceptance, and even estrangement. These all increase the risk of other challenges, such as loneliness, homelessness, substance use disorder, and trauma.

Bullying and Violence

A 2019 school climate survey showed that 86% of LGBTQ+ youth reported harassment or assault at school[5], which can significantly impact healthy social development and mental health. Additionally, 36% of LGBTQ+ youth report that they have been physically threatened or harmed due to either their sexual orientation or gender identity.3 Both the threat and experience of physical violence can be traumatic and leave a lasting psychological impact on people throughout their lives. Young people from another minority group face compounded stress, with 48% of LGBTQ+ Native/Indigenous young people reporting that they have been physically threatened or harmed due to either their sexual orientation or gender identity.3

There is a correlation between young people who have been physically threatened or harmed due to either their sexual orientation or gender identity and those who have attempted suicide. Young people who have been threatened or harmed are 19% more likely to consider suicide.3


LGBTQ+ individuals experience homelessness at higher rates than the general population. A study by UCLA in 2019 found that 17% of sexual minority adults reported they experienced lifetime homelessness. This is more than twice the rate found in the general population.[6]

Family Acceptance and Estrangement

Although the United States is becoming more accepting of sexual and gender minorities, there are certain areas and communities for which LGBTQ+ acceptance remains low. Family and community acceptance are incredibly important because, as social animals, we strive to belong to a group. Unfortunately, The Trevor Project found that just 37% of LGBTQ+ youth identified their home environment as an LGBTQ+-affirming space. This presents a significant concern for young people’s mental health and sense of belonging. Young people who live in communities that are more accepting of LGBTQ+ individuals are less likely to commit suicide.3

Federal Policy

Over 90% of transgender and nonbinary youth said that they have worried about transgender people being denied access to the bathroom or gender-affirming medical care due to state or local laws.3

Conversion therapy remains legal in the US, although it is associated with an increased risk of serious mental illness. Despite this, 17% of LGBTQ+ youth reported being threatened with or subjected to conversion therapy.3

Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth

LGBTQ+ people face significant struggles that increase their risk of loneliness, mental illness, homelessness, and substance use disorder. Addressing the issues that they face will require changes in attitudes, acceptance, and federal policy.

Acceptance and support from family and friends, a broader representation of LGBTQ+ people and issues in the media, respect for gender expression and pronouns, and educating ourselves on LGBTQ+ people and issues can all have a profoundly positive impact on the mental health and overall well-being of LGBTQ+ young people.

If you or a loved one is struggling with anything you have read in this blog, please get in touch with Heather R. Hayes & Associates – call 800-335-0316 or email today.


[1] Diversity & Health Equity. – Diversity & Health Equity. (2023, October 3). Retrieved March 2, 2023, from

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, February 13). YRBSS Data Summary & Trends. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 28, 2023, from

[3] 2022 national survey on LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health. The Trevor Project. (n.d.). Retrieved March 2, 2023, from

[4] LGBTQ++ communities and Mental Health. Mental Health America. (n.d.). Retrieved March 2, 2023, from

[5] Kosciw, J. G., Clark, C. M., Truong, N. L., & Zongrone, A. D. (2020). The 2019 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.

[6] Homelessness among LGBT adults in the US – Williams Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved March 2, 2023, from

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