The teen years are an important period for mental health. Many mental health disorders appear for the first time during those years. Unfortunately, the suicide rate is high among all people between the ages of 10 to 24. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) teens and young adults are at an even greater risk for poor mental health.
Mental health issues can include depression and mood disorders, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. There is also a risk of alcohol use and abuse and risky behaviors (such as unprotected sex). Much of this is due to the stigma associated with being LGBTQ. LGBTQ teens and young adults fear not being accepted by family, friends, teachers, co-workers, their religious community, and the community overall. There also is a fear of being bullied or not being able to achieve certain things because of bias. This is called “minority stress.”
Path to improved wellness
The majority of LGBTQ teens and young adults are happy, confident individuals. They thrive in every area of their life. Often, this is thanks to a safe, loving, and supportive home and school environment. If you are the parent or educator of a LGBTQ teen, there are two areas you can improve your LGBTQ teen’s social, emotional, and physical wellness:
- Most LGBTQ teens are fearful of telling their parents they are homosexual, bisexual, or transgender. Children fear losing their parents’ love, support, and even being kicked out of the house. As a parent, the best thing you can do for your child is offer unconditional love and support. To help your teen, offer your support by:
- Talking calmly and honestly about your child’s feelings.
- Encouraging your child to talk with you at any time.
- Inviting your child to talk with a counselor or therapist.
- Resisting passing judgment based on your own choices.
- Holding your child to the same values as you would your heterosexual children.
- Staying involved in your teen and young adult’s life.
- Being resourceful. Help your child find the medical, educational, and emotional resources they need to thrive.
- If your child decides to tell friends and classmates that he or she is LGBTQ, make sure they are in a safe school environment. Talk to your child about his or her view of the school culture, see if they celebrate diversity, and look into their policies related to bullying and violence. Additionally, watch how your child’s school:
- Identifies “safe spaces,” such as counselors’ offices or classrooms, where LGBTQ youth can go for support from administrators, teachers, or other school personnel.
- Encourages school clubs that promote a safe, welcoming, and accepting environment (e.g., gay-straight alliances or gender and sexuality alliances. These are school clubs open to youth of all sexual orientations and genders).
- Ensures health education about HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that is relevant to LGBTQ youth.
- Trains and requires school staff on how to create safe and supportive school environment for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Facilitates access to community-based providers who have experience providing health services, including HIV/STD testing and counseling, social, and psychological services to LGBTQ youth.
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) believes mental health professionals are valuable for people struggling with emotional wellness. Many people continue to see their primary care physician for help. Promoting emotional wellness is an important part of family medicine. Early detection of mental health problems is more likely to happen through regular visits with your family doctor. Family physicians treat the whole family. They are often better able to recognize problems and provide interventions in the family system. Family physicians are also able to treat people who would not have access to traditional mental health services. Many times this is because of the social stigma associated with mental illness.
Things to consider
If you are concerned about your LGBTQ teen or young adult’s emotional wellness, here are things you can monitor to assess their mental health:
- Sudden changes in your child’s personality, such as withdrawing from friends and social activities they have enjoyed in the past.
- Unexplained drops in grades or school absences.
- Unplanned weight loss. This could be the result of an eating disorder.
- Signs of substance abuse (alcohol and drugs).
- Signs of self injury, such as cutting (sometimes a person will wear long sleeves and pants during warm weather to hide the marks).
- Signs of bullying, both physically and emotionally (bruises, cuts, fear, avoidance).
- Headaches and stomach aches. These are common symptoms related to stress.
- Giving away personal treasures (which could be a sign your child is considering suicide).
Questions to ask your doctor
- If I suspect my son or daughter is LGBTQ, should I discuss it with him or her?
- Can my child’s depression or anxiety be treated with medicine alone?
- What should I do if I support my son or daughter but my spouse does not?
- What are the signs that a teen is considering suicide?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.