Queer Kids Are More Likely To Face Mental Health Problems, Study Finds

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex writer and editor. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Washington Post, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

Image by Liliya Rodnikova / Stocksy

Being a preteen is pretty stressful and overwhelming for most kids as they're growing up. You're working through puberty, navigating adolescent crushes, dealing with peer pressure and bullies, and just trying to figure out who you want to be in the world. And if you happen to be queer, those problems are likely to be all the worse. A new study published in the Lancet: Child and Adolescent Health found gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other queer kids are much more likely to deal with mental health problems than their straight peers. 

Researchers analyzed data on nearly 10,000 kids born from 2000 to 2002 gathered through an ongoing multiyear project called the Millennium Cohort Study. Of these, 6% reported a sexual orientation other than heterosexual. These kids were about five times more likely to deal with intense depressive symptoms and self-harm than their straight peers. They were also more likely to deal with low self-esteem, perceive themselves as overweight, and get bullied and victimized. Queer kids were also more likely to deal with several of these mental health issues and negative life experiences at the same time; they tended to have 1.4 out of the three mental health difficulties measured, whereas straight kids experienced 0.4 out of the three. 

"The study exposes the vast disparities in a range of outcomes between sexual minority and heterosexual young people, highlighting the need for further prevention efforts and intervention at the school, community and policy level to ensure sexual minority adolescents do not face lifelong adverse social, economic and, health outcomes," Praveetha Patalay, Ph.D., one of the study authors and a health researcher and professor with University College London, said in a news release.

There are many reasons queer kids might be more likely to deal with mental health issues. Even though many cultures have come a long way toward normalizing and celebrating LGBTQ+ identities, kids still must wrestle with social norms that assume they're straight and pressure them to conform with their straight peers—not to mention outright bullying and violence that many queer kids still face. Those constant social pressures can weigh on you mentally and emotionally, especially when you're a preteen likely trying to both fit in and find young love just like everyone else. And for those growing up in more traditional communities, there can absolutely still be real physical dangers and social ostracization associated with being openly queer.

So how can we all support better mental health for LGBTQ+ kids?

Part of it is certainly larger, systemic change that still needs to happen, such as protecting LGBTQ+ people's right to be employed without discrimination and improving our educational institutions to be more inclusive of all identities. As individuals, just being more mindful about the way we talk about love and relationships, making sure not to make assumptions about people's orientations and identities, can also go a long way toward increasing feelings of safety for all and solidifying a culture of compassion for all.

"The study findings highlight the need for mental health professionals, teachers, parents, and young people to work together to co-create systems of support that will allow young people to flourish irrespective of their sexual orientation," Ross White, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and another one of the study authors, said in the release. "An important aspect of this work will be to foster societal attitudes that celebrate diversity, recognize common humanity, and nurture compassion for oneself and others."

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