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02-23 The behavioral health challenges of LGBT teens

Posted in Bullying, Harassment, Trauma

The behavioral health challenges of LGBT teens

It’s no secret that gay teens often receive a disproportionate amount of abuse and discrimination, sometimes in the form of bullying, harassment and even violence. The stress and trauma that many LGBT teens face can have devastating effects on their mental and physical health, sometimes leading to behavioral health disorders that can linger long after they have reached adulthood.

Addiction and mental disorder in the LGBT community

A study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that people in a sexual minority are twice as likely to have taken an illicit substance and three times more likely to have a serious mental illness than those in the sexual majority.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, “Alcohol and drug use among some gay and bisexual men can be a reaction to homophobia, discrimination, or violence they experienced due to their sexual orientation and can contribute to other mental health and physical problems. It can disrupt relationships, employment, and threaten financial stability.”

Suicidal behavior

But the threat to LGBT mental health does not just stop at mental disorder and addiction. Homophobia and other forms of discrimination may also be deadly. According to the suicide prevention organization SPEAK, “Suicide is the leading cause of death among gay and lesbian youth nationally. Thirty percent of gay youth attempt suicide near the age of 15. Gays and lesbians are two to six times more likely to [commit] suicide than heterosexuals. Almost half of the gay and lesbian teens state they have attempted suicide more than once.”

A study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and published in JAMA Pediatrics found in states that enacted same-sex marriage laws, gay teens were less likely to attempt suicide than in states without similar legislation. According to the study, states that enacted same-sex marriage laws saw a 14 percent decline in suicide attempts among gay adolescents.

Lead study author Julia Raifman, Sc.D., researcher at Johns Hopkins, notes that laws impacting gay adults may make gay kids feel “more hopeful for the future.” She adds that laws that demonstrate acceptance could create tolerance and lead to less bullying of gay teens. They may also lead to less stigmatization.

Hope for the future with treatment

The Johns Hopkins study shows that acceptance and hope can have a positive impact on the behavioral health trends afflicting the LGBT community. But waiting around for political and social change is not an option. Teens who become addicted or acquire mental health disorders due to discrimination need help just as urgently as any other teen with behavioral health challenges. The only answer for that is treatment.

Sovereign Health’s Rancho San Diego facility is a safe and supportive place that treats young people with behavioral health issues. We provide individualized treatment plans for each patient, drawing on a myriad of evidence-based therapies to target each patient’s needs. We also offer a specialized treatment track for the unique needs of transgender patients. If your son or daughter has a behavioral health issue, we can help. Contact our 24/7 helpline to find out more about our treatment programs.

About the author

Darren Fraser is a content writer for Sovereign Health. He worked over two years as a reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec. For more information about this media, contact the author at


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