Why LGBTQ youth face a higher risk of suicide and self-harm

Bans and restrictions that suppress transgender freedoms don't help—but schools can, says an advocate

About as many LGBTQ+ youths considered suicide in the past year as reported not being able to access mental health care, according to the Trevor Project, which focuses on suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ youths.

And more than two-thirds of those youths also said their mental health was “poor” most of the time or always during COVID-19, according to a survey by the organization. “With all of that, you add in the backdrop that 75% of LGBTQ young people experience discrimination,” says Keygan Miller, a senior advocacy associate at The Trevor Project. “How much pressure do we need to put on them?”

Young people are less likely to attempt suicide if they have access to a place or space that affirms their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, only a third of these kids said their homes were LGBTQ-affirming, Miller said.

Related story: How Hope Squads are getting schools to talk about rising suicide risk

Not surprisingly, the risk of depression and self-harm increases in districts and communities that implement LGBTQ-unfriendly policies, such as bans on transgender athletes and books with LGBTQ themes, not allowing students to use preferred names and pronouns, and forcing kids to come out before they are ready.

“Recently, there has been a stripping back of various supports and the removal of social-emotional learning,” Miller says. “We should be looking at how to add more supports for LGBTQ young people, not taking them away.”

The good news, they say, is there are many ways that schools can create LGBTQ-affirming environments and help students feel a sense of belonging, including:

  1. Allowing students to form a Gay-Straight Alliance or similar club
  2. Teaching about LGBTQ issues in classrooms
  3. Teaching an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum
  4. Using preferred pronouns and names
  5. Connect students with a supportive adult

The Trevor Project survey also revealed hundreds of ways LGBTQ find joy and strength, including art and creative expression, online LGBTQ chat groups, seeing rainbow flags and stickers in public, representation in media and watching LGBTQ people on TikTok and YouTube.

These conditions make students more comfortable about coming out, which further helps educators provide sufficient support. Several model policies are available to schools, they say.

“Make sure policies are in place so young people feel support to come out and be in an affirming space,” Miller says. “LGBTQ young people are at higher risk of suicide not because they are LGBTQ but because of societal pressures and how they are treated. We need approaches that create support and caring environments for all young people.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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