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Anti-LGBTQ+ Policies Have an Alarming Effect on Youth Mental Health, Survey Finds

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Nearly 40% of LGBTQ+ youth have seriously considered attempting suicide in the last year, according to a survey by the Trevor Project, a national suicide prevention organization that operates a hotline and collects data on the mental health of queer youth.

More than 18,500 LGBTQ+ people living in the U.S. between the ages of 13 and 24 participated in the survey, which was conducted between September and December 2023.

The findings are part of the organization’s sixth annual survey results, and have been released in a year where more than 480 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced across the country. Last year, attempted rollbacks against LGBTQ+ rights were even greater, with the American Civil Liberties Union tracking more than 500 similar state bills

These policies have a serious effect on youth: 90% of survey respondents said their well-being was negatively affected by recent politics. And 45% of transgender and nonbinary youth even reported that they or their family have even considered moving to a different state because of local LGBTQ+ policy and laws, according to the 2024 Trevor Project survey.

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Dr. Ronita Nath, vice president of research at the Trevor Project, says the data helps create a snapshot of the current mental health landscape of LGBTQ+ youth. The survey is meant to supplement the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Survey for high school students in the U.S., which was released in February 2023. That data, which surveys a nationally representative sample of U.S. high school students, found that LGBTQ+ youth reported experiencing feelings of sadness or hopelessness at a rate of 69%, compared to heterosexual students at 35%.

The 2024 Trevor Project survey shows the need for more welcoming communities. Queer youth who reported being physically threatened, harmed, bullied, discriminated against, or subject to conversion therapy had suicide attempt rates that were double than those who did not share those experiences. Most youth reported that these incidents happened to them in school, with 32% saying they were verbally harassed because others thought they were part of the LGBTQ+ community. Another 21% said that they were not allowed to dress in a way that fit their gender identity or expression.

“LGBTQ plus people are not inherently prone to greater suicide risk because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, but that they aren't placed at greater risk because of the stigma and discrimination they experience and in society,” Nath tells TIME. “We do urge politicians, members of the media, anyone publicly debating about LGBTQ+ young people to really understand that… protecting and supporting the mental health and well being of young people, you know, should not be up for political debate.”

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Access to care

The 2024 Trevor Project survey comes shortly after the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute own survey that reveals that 93% of transgender youth aged 13 to 17 in the U.S. live in states that either have passed or are considering bills that would limit their access to gender-affirming-care, bathrooms, proper pronoun usage, or participation in sports that match their gender identity.

While much political discourse focuses on medical care that could change one’s physical appearance, an overwhelming majority of LGBTQ+ youth, nearly 85%, reported wanting mental health care. Yet only 1 in 2 LGBTQ+ youth were actually able to receive that care. 

“Our research really illustrates how intangible barriers like stigma and fear play a really major role in preventing people from accessing mental health care,” says Nath. Young people cited concerns like being afraid to talk about their mental health with someone else, lack of affordability, and not wanting to have to get their caregiver’s permission as the biggest obstacles to receiving mental health care. 

“While 24 states have passed laws banning and criminalizing best practice and essential medical care for transgender nonbinary young people, our survey found that very few people received this care to begin with. Just 13% reported being on gender-affirming hormones, and  2% reported taking puberty blockers,” Nath says. Still, of those on hormones, 61% were somewhat or very concerned about losing access to that care. 

How to help LGBTQ+ youth

Survey respondents were asked to list ways people can best support LGBTQ+ youth. 88% of respondents wanted people to trust that they knew who they were. Four in five people said they wanted people to show up for them. 77%asked that others not support politicians working to advance anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. 

“We can encourage schools in our communities to implement, you know school district policies that prioritize suicide prevention,” says Nath. “We can advocate for intersectional approaches to mental health care for students. We need to have zero tolerance policies for anti-LGBTQ+ bullying and harassment.” 

If you need to talk to someone about your mental health or suicidal thoughts, please call The Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 988.

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