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The Impact of COVID-19 on LGBTQI+ Teen Mental Health

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National Survey Shows Increased Rates of Suicidal Ideation, Anxiety, and Depression

In late 2020, The Trevor Project published a report warning of the potential negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on LGBTQI+ youth. At that point, virtually every mental health advocacy non-profit and mental health related government organization had already published similar warnings. These reputable entities made it clear to the general public that almost all demographics would face mental health challenges as a result of the pandemic. Each one also highlighted the potential negative effect of virtual school and physical distancing on the mental health of adolescents and young adults.

The Trevor Project Report from 2020 included similar warnings, but these were specific to LGBTQI+ youth. Here’s a quick review of the potential problems – which we’ll call red flags – they identified:

Red Flag #1: Decrease in Positive Social Interactions

Red Flag #2: Increase in Negative Social Interactions

  • For LGBTQI+ youth, physical distancing and virtual school may result in more time spent in an environment that may be unsupportive or abusive
  • Two-thirds of LGBTQI+ youth report their home environment is neither accepting nor supportive

Red Flag #3: Economic Strain

  • For LGBTQI+ youth, economic strain can lead to substantial increases in housing instability
    • LGBTQI+ youth experience higher rates of housing instability than non-LGBTQI+ youth
    • Housing instability is associated with increased rates of mental health issues for all demographics, including the LGBTQI+ community
  • For LGBTQI+ youth, economic strain can lead to substantial increases in food insecurity
    • LGBTQI+ youth experience higher rates of food insecurity than non-LGBTQI+ youth
    • Housing instability is associated with increased rates of mental health issues for all demographics, including the LGBTQI+ community

At the beginning of 2021, the first data-driven reports on the impact of the pandemic on the general population arrived. Throughout the year, reports appeared that gave us data on the effect of the pandemic on teens and young adults.

You can read our summaries of three of those reports here, here, and here.

One of those reports – published by the Trevor Project – focused on the effect of the pandemic on LGBTQI+ teens and young adults. In this article, we’ll share the key data points from that report. At the end, we’ll provide a list of resources for LGBTQI+ teens and their parents.

The National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health 2021: The Trevor Project

This publication is important because of its size and focus. Size-wise, it rivals publications like the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the National Monitoring the Future Survey. It includes data gathered from over thirty-thousand teens (13-17) and young adults (18-24) between October and December 2020. Focus-wise, it prioritizes data on the LGBTQI+ population. To read the full report, click here. Participants in the survey answered 142 questions on their experiences of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and general mental health during 2020.

Questions took two forms: “In the past two weeks, have you [insert mental health-related question]?” and “In the past 12 months, have you [insert mental health-related question]?” For the safety of each participant, this message appeared before each mental health or suicide-related question:

“If at any time you need to talk to someone about your mental health or thoughts of suicide, please call The Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386.”

We have a nearly identical message:

Any parent or teen reading this who is in imminent danger of harming themselves should call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately. Do not wait.

With that said, let’s look at the key data points from the survey.

LGBTQ Teens: Mental Health Facts and Figures

1. General Statistics

  • 70% of LGBTQI+ youth reported “poor” mental health always/most of the time during the pandemic
  • 75% of cisgender LGBQ+ said COVID-19 negatively impacted their mental health
  • 85% of transgender and non-binary youth said COVID-19 negatively impacted their mental health
  • 80% of LGBTQI+ teens said COVID-19 negatively impacted their mental health
  • 80% of LGBTQI+ young adults said COVID-19 negatively impacted their mental health

2. Suicide Statistics

  • Seriously Considered Suicide During 2020:
    • 42% of LGBTQI+ youth and young adults (13-24)
    • 52% of transgender and nonbinary youth and young adults
    • 48% of transgender and nonbinary teens (13-17)
    • 34% of LGBTQI+ young adults (18-24)
  • Attempted Suicide During 2020 (Overall):
    • 20% of LGBTQI+ teens
    • 9% of LGBTQI+ young adults
  • Attempted Suicide During 2020 (By race/ethnicity):
    • 31% of LGBTQI+ Native/Indigenous teens and young adults
    • 21% of LGBTQI+ Black teens and young adults
    • 21% of LGBTQI+ multiracial teens and young adults
    • 18% of LGBTQI+ Latinx teens and young adults
    • 12% of LGBTQI+ Asian/Pacific Islander teens and young adults
    • 12% of LGBTQI+ White teens and young adults

3. Mental Health Statistics: Anxiety and Depression

  • Reported Symptoms of General Anxiety Disorder During the Two Weeks Before Survey:
    • 72% of LGBTQI+ youth
    • 65% of cisgender LGBQ+ youth
    • 77% of transgender and non-binary youth
    • 73% of LGBTQI+ teens
    • 69% of LGBTQI+ young adults
  • Reported Symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder During the Two Weeks Before Survey:
    • 62% of LGBTQI+ youth
    • 70% of transgender and non-binary youth
    • 53% of cisgender LGBQ+ youth
    • 67% of LGBTQI+ teens
    • 40% of LGBTQI+ young adults

We understand that’s a lot of data to take in all at once. That’s why we won’t go through these statistics line-by-line and compare them to the rates of suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, general mental health problems, anxiety symptoms, and depression symptoms identified in non-LGBTQI+ adolescents. We’ll only compare rates of anxiety and depression.

Here’s the comparison:

Prevalence of Anxiety:

  • LGBTQI+ teens: 72%
  • Non-LGBTQI+ teens: 31%

Prevalence of Depression:

  • LGBTQI+ teens: 62%
  • Non-LGBTQI+ teens: 15.2%

That’s why we’re writing this article – and that’s why the Trevor Project published their report on the current state of mental health for LGBTQI+ teens. The data says this community faces significant mental health challenges as a result of the pandemic. These challenges existed before the pandemic, and were exacerbated by the pandemic. Which means that now, more than ever, we need to work to support our LGBTQI+ youth in any way we can.

What We Can Do

The majority of mental health issues in LGBTQI+ teens originate in the stigma, non-acceptance, and judgment they experience from their family and peers. Therefore, the most important thing we can do for LGBTQI+ teens is to offer them a safe space where their sexual and gender identity is both supported and honored. That requires unconditional love and acceptance on the part of parents, peers, teachers, and mentors: in short, anyone involved in the life of a teen who identifies as LGBTQI+ should let that teen know they’re loved and supported.

After that fundamental step, parents of LGBTQI+ teens should keep a close eye on them, and monitor their behavior and mood for signs of a mental health disorder, suicidal ideation, or escalating risky behavior, such as alcohol or drug use.

To learn more about the signs of depression in teens, read these two articles:

When Does a Teen Need Rehab for Depression?

9 Surprising Signs of Teen Depression

To learn more about the signs of anxiety in teens, read this article:

 Behavioral Health Treatment Centers Help Teens Overcome Anxiety

To learn more about the signs of alcohol or drug addiction (AUD/SUD) in teens, read this article:

Does My Teen Need Drug Rehab? Part Two: Five Signs Your Teen Might Need Residential Treatment

We’ll close this article by sharing the best online, text, chat, and telephone resources available for LGBTQI+ teens who need help and support.

LGBTQI+ Teens: Mental Health and Suicide Resources and Hotlines

First, the Trevor Project website is the gold standard for LGBTQI+ support for teens. Parents can learn more about their teens by exploring their general resource page here. Teens who want to learn more about the LGBTQI+ experience from people who’ve walked the path before them can explore their teen resource page, topic by topic, here.

Teens in crisis, teens who want to connect with a counselor, or teens who need to reach out for support for any reason can call or text the following numbers:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (24/7/365): 1-800-273-8255
  • The Trevor Project Phone (24/7/365): 1-866-488-7386
  • Trevor Project Text (7 days/wk, 6am-am ET, 3am-10pm PT): Text START to 678678
  • Trevor Project Chat: CLICK HERE
  • The Crisis Text Line (24/7/365): Text CONNECT to 741741
  • The Youth Yellow Pages TEEN LINE (6pm-10pm PT) 310-855-4673
  • The Youth Yellow Pages TEXT: Text TEEN to 839863
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