When a child reaches the stage of adolescence, they face many factors that contribute to their growth. Whether that is having a great support system from their family, making good friends with their peers at school, and are well both physically and mentally. For adolescents in the LGBTQ+ community, rather than go through the stages that every adolescent faces, they have to encounter many struggles in their lives. Many LGBTQ+ youth deal with poor mental health, bullying in their schools, homelessness, and family rejection when their parents cannot accept them for their sexuality.
It is essential to understand the risks and protective factors associated with the LGBTQ+ youth so more prevention and intervention strategies can be implemented to ensure them that they are safe regardless of the circumstances they will face in the future.
LGBT youth face many trials and tribulations when it comes to their mental health. When they enter their adolescence stage, they’re at a critical period where many mental health disorders start to emerge directly (Russell & Fish, 2016).
It is vital to know the risk factors LGBT youth face in order to understand why they’re dealing with poorer mental health outcomes than those who aren’t part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Many studies and research have been conducted to find out the things that contribute to the risk factors LGBT youth face when it comes to their poor mental health. Conflict with family, abuse, and substance use are 3 universal risk factors that many LGBT adolescents face(Russell & Fish, 2016). Discrimination and stigma with their sexuality is also a specific risk factor (Russell & Fish, 2016). LGBT adolescents who lived or live in areas where they’re more likely to experience assault and hate crimes showed that they’re more prone to suicide attempts since they experience things that they hardly report on (Russell & Fish, 2016). Adolescents who attend schools where they’re not fully protected by nondiscrimination and anti-bullying policies are more likely to have poor mental health as well since they face many hardships in terms of dealing with harassment as well as discrimination within a school environment (Russell & Fish, 2016). Those who experience bullying within the school or via the internet reported higher levels of depression, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, substance use, and truancy when it came to their ability to go to school(Russell & Fish, 2016). These risk factors need to be addressed in order to fully support LGBT adolescents in developing better mental health outcomes rather than allow them to deal with these risk factors alone without any support.
Mental health effects come in different forms whether it is by having depression, anxiety, thinking about suicide as well as attempting it, substance abuse, truancy, etc. LGBT adolescents must deal with all those risk factors that correlate with why they’re experiencing poor mental health outcomes. In order to see changes being made in fully addressing the mental health outcomes LGBT adolescents experience, more programs, as well as legal policies, need to be implemented (Russell & Fish, 2016). These adolescents are experiencing poor mental health due to fear of rejection, homelessness, harassment, and discrimination from their neighborhoods and peers. By understanding the risk factors that correlate with poor mental health, researchers and advocates can work to address ways in helping LGBT adolescents not only deal with these risk factors but find ways where they can prevent them from experiencing them.
LGBT youth who experience homelessness must deal with a wide range of different issues that affects them in many ways. They have to deal with poor mental health, substance abuse, suicide, violence, and sexual risk behaviors because of the fact they’re homeless ( Keuroghlian & Shtasel, 2014). About 320,000 to 400,000 LGBT youth experience homelessness every year (Tierney & Ward, 2017). While homeless, they must face more stigmatization not only for being homeless but for being a sexual and gender minority as well (Tierney & Ward, 2017).
There are many reasons why LGBT youth end up homeless. The most common one is running away especially from families who reject them for their sexual orientation or gender identity (Keuroghlian & Shtasel, 2014). Another reason is also the fact their families force them to leave even if they prefer staying home (Keuroghlian & Shtasel, 2014). A third reason is aging and running away from the foster care system, those who are in the system tend to experience abuse and discrimination for their sexuality or gender identity(Keuroghlian & Shtasel, 2014). LGBT youth who experience homelessness are more likely to engage in risky behaviors and utilize them as survival strategies (Tierney & Ward, 2017). Substance abuse and survival sex are a few strategies LGBT youth use to cope with their circumstances( Tierney & Ward, 2017). They use survival sex to find food, money, and at times drugs (Keuroghlian & Shtasel, 2014). Having unprotected sex is one of the highest causes to why many LGBT homeless youth end up with sexually transmitted diseases and infections like HIV (Keuroghlian & Shtasel, 2014).
While a lot of research is being conducted on homeless youth specifically LGBT youth, more needs to be done in putting the issues these adolescents are facing to rest. LGBT youth who are homeless experience an endless cycle of struggles. They have to deal with their mental health in terms of not having a support system. They have to deal with substance abuse not only to help with the pain but to feel better about the conditions their living with and they have to use survival sex in order to make ends meet. More prevention and intervention programs are needed at putting these risk factors to rest so these adolescents wouldn’t have to trade sex to buy drugs or their first meal (Keuroghlian & Shtasel, 2014). Without more support, homeless LGBT youth will continue to be considered a lost cause (Keuroghlian & Shtasel, 2014).
In adolescence, the family is a big aspect to one’s life whether they are involved in it fully or are there with when one needs them to be. For LGBT youth, families are inconsistent in terms of how they would deal with their child coming out to them. LGBT youth who are rejected by their families are more likely to experience negative impacts like suicide attempts, being depressed, as well as engage in risky behavior (Snapp et al., 2015). It all depends on whether members of the family specifically the parents would affirm or reject their child’s sexuality or gender identity (Snapp et al., 2015).
When it comes to family acceptance it in a way shields LGBT youth from experiencing all the negative impacts they would experience if rejected. One study that had about 491 LGBT adolescents in the United States, showed that family acceptance and support had a positive impact on one’s self-acceptance and well-being(Snapp et al., 2015). Another study that had about 245 LGBT adolescents found that if they are accepted, they would have better social support, greater self-esteem, and less affected by mental distress (Snapp et al., 2015). One of the key factors why many families tend to reject their children is because of their religion (Snapp et al., 2015). Rather than support or be there for their child, these parents would instead kick them out and never speak to them again and pretend as if they never existed. Because of family rejection, these adolescents would experience negative impacts that would affect them for the rest of their lives, one of them being homelessness as well as substance abuse(Snapp et al., 2015).
Even though families typically reject LGBT adolescents, these adolescents can still create their own support system whether it is by friends or by their community (Snapp et al., 2015). Many families need programs catered to learning about how they can support their children rather than reject them for being who they are. Family rejection is a predictor of negative outcomes, but creating programs that have counseling, support groups, and even classes where these families can learn more about the LGBT community, would decrease the likelihood of family rejection and increase support (McConnell et al., 2016)
Schools are supposed to be places where every child can feel safe, but that isn’t how LGBT adolescents are feeling. Although there is a general decline in bullying, LGBT adolescents are still affected by it. Research has shown that LGBT adolescents are being bullied based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression (Kull et al., 2016). These researches are showing how LGBT adolescents don’t feel safe at their schools because of the growing rate of peer victimization they experience (White et al., 2016).
Over 85% of LGBT youth experience bullying and harassment within their schools (Kull et al., 2016). Bullying is affecting these adolescents in so many ways especially when it comes to their psychological well-being. LGBT adolescents who are bullied deal with depression as well as low-self-esteem (Kull et al., 2016). They also suffer from lower academic achievement (Kull et al., 2016). Schools need to find more ways to prevent these LGBT students from dropping out of school or deal with the negative outcomes that come with peer victimization. Anti-bullying campaigns need to have more support not only from students, but from the administration as well as the teachers, so these LGBT adolescents can know that they have allies and support within their educational environment(Kull et al., 2016).
Even though these LGBT adolescents continue to experience bullying and less positive experiences at school, it is important to note that supportive social networks in schools need to be implemented to improve school experiences(White et al., 2016). LGBT students now are talking more to their teachers and peers for support than ever before and found that the presence of having extracurricular activities like GSAs create positive impacts for these adolescents’ future (White et al., 2016). More research also needs to be conducted in finding more ways to ensure these LGBT students are taken care of when dealing with peer victimization so that they can be able to thrive and succeed without worrying about their bullies and the harassment they’ll face.
Researchers and professionals who work with LGBT youth can use their knowledge and apply it in understanding the negative impacts that these adolescents face. Whether it is by helping them with their mental health, addressing the issues they face at school, or allowing them to feel accepted by their peers when they’re rejected by others, these protective factors are helping reduce the negative impacts these LGBT adolescents experience or would experience in the future.
States that have anti-bullying laws and policies that include sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression have shown to have received fewer reports in suffering from homophobia as well as harassment than states that don’t have those laws and policies(Russell & Fish, 2016). Schools that include resources like GSAs and SOGI are also known to have reduced negative impacts that LGBT students deal with whether it is bullying or poor mental health and many LGBT students have reported feeling more safer when these resources are in place (Russell & Fish, 2016). Adding resources as well as LGBT curriculums in schools has shown to be associated with helping LGBT students in having a better psychological adjustment and has improved their sense of safety as well as acceptance(Russell & Fish, 2016). Training teachers, staff, and administrators about the issues that LGBT students face have also shown an increase in an adult intervention which is great when a lot of students struggle with coming out and talking about their sexualities with other people(Russell & Fish, 2016). These teachers, staff, and administrators can be there for those students especially when they have to experience family rejection as well as peer rejection in school. Parental and peer support is also needed as a protective factor especially when these negative impacts come from the lack of support and rejection they experience from their families, friends, and communities (Russell & Fish, 2016).
These protective factors are helping LGBT youth to not experience any negative impacts whether that is homelessness, poor mental health, substance abuse, etc. Ultimately, it is up to the adolescents’ experience, but by having these protective factors within these states, schools, and communities, more adolescents who are part of the LGBT community wouldn’t have to feel alone and less safe and they also wouldn’t have to deal with any of the negative impacts that other LGBT youth have experienced or are experiencing now.
Families, friends, and communities are vital when it comes to implementing prevention and intervention programs that are created to not let LGBT youth experience any negative impacts. Programs like the Trevor Project and extracurricular programs like GSAs are working relentlessly to input the negative impacts LGBT adolescents face to rest, and they have all been effective in reducing these negative impacts.
The Trevor Project is one program that is focused on ending suicide among LGBT youth. They provide crisis counseling to those who are thinking about suicide, offer many different resources in reducing the risk of them becoming suicidal, and educating others on ways they can detect the early warning signs and respond (The Trevor Project, 2016). The University of Southern California and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles conducted a preliminary data report on how effective the Trevor Project really was, and the report indicated that it was an effective program that had reduced the rate of suicide when it came to LGBT young people (The Trevor Project, 2016). About 26% of youth who did the report stated that they wouldn’t contact any other helpline if the Trevor Project didn’t exist (The Trevor Project, 2016).
When it comes to schools, there’s a different club that anybody can join, but putting GSAs(Gay and straight alliances) clubs and resources have shown to have a big impact on LGBT youth especially ones that suffer from peer victimization. GSAs are student-led clubs that is welcoming to everybody who support LGBT students and their primary goal is to reduce bullying, discrimination, and harassment within the school as well as allow LGBT students especially those that are questioning to feel supported (Russell & Fish, 2016). GSAs are truly beneficial and are effective, students who participated in GSAs reported that they were less likely to feel depressed, use any substance, and have any suicidal thoughts and attempts (Russell & Fish, 2016). This club has diminished any negative impact an LGBT student would face in their education environment especially when they implement other programs like the Day of Silence as well as the No-Name Calling week. The Day of Silence is a day in April where students are silent to bring awareness to the bullying, harassment, and assault they face for being part of the LGBTQ+ community ( GLSEN, 2018). The No-Name Calling week is a time where schools allow their students to not name-call or bully any student especially if they’re different when it comes to their sexuality, gender, ethnicity, etc(GLSEN, 2018). Many GSAs member has participated in these programs and has shown to be effective in bringing awareness to an issue not many people speak on( GLSEN, 2018).
It is important to note that there are plenty of programs catered to LGBT youth whether they’re struggling with their mental health, are homeless, and are using any type of substance. These programs are essential in understanding what more can be done to help these adolescents not go down the route that is not good for them. The future of knowing more about the issues that LGBT youth face is hopeful. There’s still a long way to go in terms of research and creating more programs, but these prevention and intervention programs like the ones discussed seem to be effective.
More is being done in acknowledging the issues that LGBT adolescents face whether it is mental health, family rejection, homelessness, and bullying. A lot of research is being conducted in understanding the risk factors while also creating protective factors that diminish those negative impacts. Programs that are created and or being created are effective and are helping these adolescents with finding a support network with their counselors, teachers, peers, and even parents. These programs are creating effective methods where communities can also learn more about these adolescents’ identities and grow to support them. With this in mind it is vital to know that awareness is being given to LGBT adolescents and the circumstances they’ll face, and more resources are going to be provided to them, so they can be able to thrive and succeed.
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