Survey after survey shows that, when it comes to their mental health, LGBTQ+ teens and young adults are faring worse than their heterosexual peers.
For instance, the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, conducted in fall 2021, found that 69 percent of LGBTQ+ students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the past year, compared with 35 percent of heterosexual students. The CDC survey also found that LGBTQ+ students were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide.
Meanwhile, state legislation targeting LGBTQ+ students’ rights has picked up momentum in recent years. Some Republican-led state legislatures have passed bills that curtail discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools, or bills that don’t require school staff to use students’ pronouns or names if they don’t align with the students’ sex assigned at birth while sometimes requiring that teachers alert parents if students request to go by a different name or use different pronouns.
A 2022 survey from The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention organization, found that nearly two-thirds of teens and young adults said that hearing about legislative proposals banning people from discussing LGBTQ+ issues at school made their mental health a lot worse.
LGBTQ+ high school students were more likely than their peers to say they had sought out mental health services at their school in a recent survey by the EdWeek Research Center.
In that nationally representative survey of 1,034 high school students conducted in August and September, 46 percent of high school students who identified as LGBTQ+ said they had used mental health services associated with their school in the past year, compared with 39 percent of high school students who identified as heterosexual.
Another 22 percent of LGBTQ+ students said they needed mental health services, but didn’t receive them through their school. Ten percent of heterosexual students said the same.
What is it like being a LGBTQ+ student in this political climate? What do LGBTQ+ students need to thrive? Education Week put these questions to three young adults. Their interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.
‘My school’s GSA saved my life’
I was thinking of suicide constantly during my freshman year of high school, and I was not alone in that thought—I know plenty of queer and trans youth who have thought about suicide because of all of this stuff. ...
Mental health challenges ‘come with the territory’
I was struggling because I knew that there was something different, something that I had never really thought of, about me. I was curious. I was also a bit scared because of society. ...
At school, ‘my safety didn’t feel like the priority’
Just in general, high school is really challenging for a lot of students. But in my experience, as cliché as it sounds, it does get better after high school. I still do have a lot of hope that, for trans young people, that their mental health can get better in spite of all of these really legitimate challenges. ...
Coverage of leadership, summer learning, social and emotional learning, arts learning, and afterschool is supported in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation, at www.wallacefoundation.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the October 25, 2023 edition of Education Week as ‘I Definitely Struggle With My Mental Health’: LGBTQ+ Students Share Their Stories