3 Essential Resources to Support LGBTQ Young Adult Well-BeingReading Time: 4 minutes
The psychological, political, economic, and social repercussions of the pandemic have hit young adults harder than almost any other age group. And within this demographic, young people who identify as LGBTQ have been even more drastically impacted. A new survey of more than 35,000 LGBTQ youth finds that 69 percent of LGBTQ young adults are experiencing symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, and 40 percent are suffering from major depression. For transgender and nonbinary young adults, and for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and multiracial LGBTQ youth, the rates of anxiety and depression are even higher.
These troubling statistics illustrate the struggles LGBTQ communities face, and illuminate the pressing need for social change to support LGBTQ young adults, including those with intersectional identities that encompass more than one marginalized identity or group. With LGBTQ mental health challenges exacerbated by the events of the past year, young adults need tools for resilience and well-being more than ever before.
Know the Facts
67 percent of LGBTQ young adults suffered from poor mental health during most or all of the past year.
New Research on LGBTQ Mental Health
A 2021 survey of more than 35,000 LGBTQ youth revealed how the pandemic and the political situation in 2020 have impacted LGBTQ young adults. Here is a sampling of the findings:
- 45 percent of LGBTQ young adults (ages 18–24) lost a job over the past year.
- 81 percent said COVID-19 negatively impacted their mental health and made their living situation more stressful.
- 14 percent of LGBTQ young adults reported being subjected to conversion therapy.
- One-third of LGBTQ young adults had trouble affording enough food in the month prior to the survey.
- Nearly half of LGBTQ youth wanted counseling from a mental health professional but did not have access to care over the past year.
- Two-thirds of Black LGBTQ youth and 60 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander LGBTQ youth experienced discrimination during the past year based on their race/ethnicity.
- 94 percent of the youth surveyed reported that politics during 2020 had had a negative effect on their mental health.
Moreover, between 20 and 45 percent of homeless youth in the United States identify as LGBTQ, and most have left home or been kicked out due to family rejection. In addition, LGBTQ college students reported experiencing more discrimination during the pandemic. According to a survey of LGBTQ graduate and undergraduate students around the country, 30 percent heard their family make negative comments about LGBTQ people more often, 36 percent were more cautious about their actions around heterosexual people, 44 percent were more likely to hide their identity from other people, and a third of transgender and nonbinary students reported experiencing more frequent disrespect of their gender identities.
LGBTQ Substance Abuse Statistics
Not surprisingly, these mental health statistics are reflected in rates of LGBTQ substance abuse among young adults. Studies show that LGB people, particularly women, are at greater risk for alcohol and substance use disorders, due to the intensified stressors this group faces.
This seems to be particularly true for young adults. Recent research using data from the CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows that rates of alcohol use among LGB young adults (ages 18–25) are 18 percent higher than their peers, and rates of marijuana use are 59 percent higher. Moreover, lifetime usage of harder drugs—including cocaine, meth, ecstasy, and heroin—is two to three times higher among LGB young adults.
The pandemic and last year’s social unrest have exacerbated these trends. A 2020 study found that alcohol use increased among LGBTQ young adults at the onset of social distancing, in tandem with decreasing levels of hope for the future. According to the survey of LGBTQ college students referenced above, 32 percent started drinking more alcohol after the pandemic began, and 22 percent reported more recreational cannabis use.
3 Resources to Support LGBTQ Young Adults
Parental acceptance and affirmation are the most important predictors of LGBTQ mental health. When they are deprived of that acceptance, young adults suffer from the tragic consequences of relational trauma. One study found that LGBTQ young adults who experienced high levels of family rejection during adolescence were more than eight times as likely to attempt suicide, nearly six times as likely to be depressed, and more than three times more likely to use illegal drugs.
Clearly, repairing parent-child relationships that have been ruptured by lack of acceptance is paramount for LGBTQ mental health. However, there are evidence-based approaches that can help LGBTQ young adults heal and move forward, with or without the support of family.
1. Self-Compassion: It sounds simple, but it’s incredibly effective. Research shows that self-compassion and self-empowerment are essential resources for personal happiness—and can even help overcome a lack of parental acceptance. Mindfulness and positive affirmation practices that build empathy and acceptance for oneself are therefore powerful resources for LGBTQ young adults.
2. Supportive Communities: Connection is vital for LGBTQ young adults. A review of 34 studies on LGBTQ mental health found that community groups and GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliance groups) provided an all-important “sense of solidarity and friendship in the face of isolation.” Feeling connected with the LGBTQ community can even protect young people from the negative outcomes of prejudice, one study found. In addition, caring adults and positive peer connections also serve as invaluable resources for LGBTQ youth.
3. Self-Care: Building healthy habits and routines can take some effort, but once these practices are established, they will continue to support young adults throughout life. Self-care includes not just attending to physical health, but also to mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational well-being—whether that means making a gratitude list or savoring the beauty of the ocean or a gorgeous sunset. And self-care also includes seeking the support of a mental healthcare professional if you’re suffering from anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts, rather than trying to tough it out on your own.
Ultimately, despite the challenges they face, developing and drawing on these three resources can help every LGBTQ young adult fully embrace and embody their unique self as they find a path forward to flourishing.