Many LGBTQ+ teenagers struggle with anxiety. These teens face discrimination associated with being a part of a stigmatized minority group, which increases their chances of having a mental illness.
Why does this matter?
Mental health is health. Even though that might seem obvious, a lot of the general population doesn’t have a thorough understanding of or accept people with mental illnesses. Similarly, although the public has become more empathetic and accepting of the LGBTQ+ community in recent years, LGBTQ+ people still experience discrimination. Acknowledging the stigma surrounding these two communities is the first step in trying to reduce it.
What is minority stress?
Minority stress is psychological distress caused by being a part of a stigmatized group. This distress stems from internalized stigmatization and interpersonal discrimination, prejudice, victimization, social exclusion, denial of civil or human rights, harassment, abuse, rejection, etc.. This stress can cause physiological responses such as anxiety or elevated blood pressure and with time may have other adverse effects on a person’s mental and physical health. The consequences of minority stress are visible: people who identify as non-heterosexual are three times more likely to receive a diagnosis of major depression and anxiety disorders than their straight peers (NAMI).
Teenagers are particularly susceptible to social exclusion behaviors and/or attitudes as they are at a vulnerable stage in their development where their peers and their peers’ opinions have a strong influence on them. Because of their age and stigmatized identities, LGBTQ+ teenagers are at a greater risk for poor mental health (Russell and Fish). They are likely to have heightened levels of emotional distress, and symptoms related to anxiety disorders. Additionally, poor mental health can lead to many behavioral health disparities such as substance abuse.
History of Prejudice and Discrimination Against the LGBTQ+ Community:
- Until 1973, homosexuality was in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), commonly referred to as the “bible of psychiatry”
- Homosexuality was listed as a “sociopathic personality disturbance” for many years
- 92% of LGBTQ+ youth report that they hear negative messages about being LGBTQ+
- 85% of LGBTQ+ students were verbally harassed in the past year
- LGBTQ+ youth are two times more likely than their peers to be physically assaulted, kicked, or shoved
- There are still 168 countries where gay marriage has not been legalized (27 countries have legalized gay marriage)
Three Main Causes Of Minority Stress:
- Objective or external stressors, including structural or institutional discrimination and direct interpersonal interactions
- Anticipation or expectation of victimization and rejection, as well as related hypervigilance
- Internalization of negative social attitudes (internalized homophobia and/or transphobia)
Examples of How Minority Stress Works:
- Victimization ⟶ psychological consequences
- People face prejudice and discrimination ⟶ they learn to read situations in order to judge how safe a situation is and/or how much they can be themselves (highly attuned to context) ⟶ they have increased levels of anxiety
- People hear and see negative messages about their identity as a member of the LGBTQ+ community⟶ they start to believe these ideas ⟶ they internalize homophobia and/or transphobia ⟶ self-hatred
Many LGBTQ+ teenagers struggle with anxiety and hence face dual or doubled stigma because they are a part of the LGBTQ+ community and because they have a mental illness. Heightened mental health risks exist for LGBTQ+ teens at the structural, societal, and interpersonal levels, but less is known about the risks concerning the intrapersonal levels (= taking place in the mind).
- Educate yourself and stay informed on issues that impact LGBTQ+ youth
- Participate in or help facilitate discussions on LGBTQ+ issues
- Encourage LGBTQ+ non-discriminatory policies and anti-bullying laws in your country, state, city, school district, and school
- Advocate for LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculums and programs
- Encourage your school to have LGBTQ+ specific training for teachers, administrators, and other faculty
- Help your school or other community have present and easily accessible information on LGBTQ+ issues
- Be visibly supportive of LGBTQ+ youth; advocate for LGBTQ+ inclusion and equality
- Watch for signs of bullying; be an ally, not a bystander
- Get involved in a local LGBTQ+ organization (for example, your school’s GSA)
LGBTQ+ teenagers need support from parents, guardians, other adults, and from their peers (that’s you!). Doing any of the things on the list above contributes to a favorable school climate where students are safe to be themselves, which in turn leads to better psychological adjustment, more positive mental health, self-acceptance, and well-being.
The following survey consists of four multiple choice questions and should only take a minute to complete. My goal with this survey is to see if I can detect a statistically significant difference in levels of stress and/or anxiety among people who identify as a part of the LGBTQ+ community. (When looking at the different results, keep in mind that the data collected is not entirely conclusive as the sample size is fairly small.)
If you have a minute, please take the survey!
More Resources for LGBTQ+ Teenagers with Anxiety (or Concerned Peers/ Parents/ Friends):
Sources Cited and Resources Consulted: