New Study Shows How COVID, Hostile Politics Impact LGTBQ Youths' Mental Health

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday May 21, 2021

LGBTQ youth in America have long struggled with the mental health challenges brought about by family and social rejection. The COVID pandemic, along with increased political hostility, have made things worse, according to a new report from The Trevor Project.

"More than 80% of LGBTQ youth stated that COVID-19 made their living situation more stressful," the 2021 "National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health" found, with only "1 in 3 LGBTQ youth [finding] their home to be LGBTQ-affirming."

Another metric indicated the severity of familial rejection faced by LGBTQ youth: 13% of the survey's respondents reported "being subjected to conversion therapy," the publication said, with 83% of those who had endured the discredited practice "reporting it occurred when they were under age 18." Those who had been subjected to conversion "therapy" were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide, the report noted.

Another significant challenge for the mental health of America's LGBTQ youth: A hostile political climate that has grown worse recently, as state lawmakers across the country take up an unprecedented wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation, much of it aimed at transgender children.

The results of the survey show that "more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth" have contemplated suicide, with nearly half - 42% - of LGTBQ youth overall considering ending their own lives, while 94% of LGTBQ youth say that America's political climate has "negatively impacted their mental health."

The Trevor Project's Executive Director, Amit Paley, addressed the findings in the statement, telling "all the lawmakers considering anti-transgender bills across the county" that "we urge you to take a hard look at this evidence and take time out of your day to actually meet with the transgender and nonbinary youth who would be harmed by your misguided proposals."

Other survey results show similarly alarming statistics. "70% of LGBTQ youth stated that their mental health was 'poor' most of the time or always during COVID-19," the report said, a situation coupled with disparities in the mental health care services, as "48% of LGBTQ youth reported they wanted counseling from a mental health professional but were unable to receive it in the past year."

Intersectionality entered into the results as well, with "45% of respondents being LGBTQ youth of color," The Trevor Project noted in a statement about the new report. "Half of all LGBTQ youth of color reported discrimination based on their race/ethnicity in the past year."

Overall, the survey "provides critical insights into suicide risk factors, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health care disparities, discrimination, food insecurity, and conversion therapy," The Trevor Project's statement summarized. "In addition to highlighting these serious challenges, the data underscores the importance of LGBTQ-affirming spaces and practices."

Supportive families are one of the keys to disrupting the alarming trends. Suicide attempts were halved among trans and non-binary youth who "reported having pronouns respected by all of the people they lived with," as compared to "those who did not have their pronouns respected by anyone with whom they lived."

Similarly, "Transgender and nonbinary youth who were able to change their name and/or gender marker on legal documents, such as driver's licenses and birth certificates, reported lower rates of attempting suicide," the report said.

The 2021 survey is the third such annual report to be compiled and issued by The Trevor Project. As EDGE reported last fall, the trends the survey identifies might have been worsened by the global COVID pandemic and heightened political hostility, but they have been longstanding. As the Family Acceptance Project's Dr. Caitlin Ryan observed in the EDGE article: "It's almost as if we have been repeating the same data collection and we haven't had the impact that we needed to have."

But the 2021 report from The Trevor Project also identified a potent source of hope: Representation. Asked what gave them "joy and strength," respondents not only listed "Affirming parents" and "Chosen family," but also "Celebrities coming out with pride," "Seeing rainbow flags & stickers in public," "Representation in media," and "Learning more about LGTBQ history."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.