June is Pride Month. It is not just a month to raise awareness, but to celebrate diversity, practice inclusion, and to recognize the historical and ongoing contributions made by our LGBTQIA+ community.
It is estimated there are nearly 2 million LGBTQ youth in the United States between the ages of 13-17 years, which is approximately 9.5% of all youth in that age range. Despite the fact that nearly 1 in 10 adolescents identify as LGBTQ, many experience social isolation and a lack of connectedness. These are two factors that increase the risk of mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, for all individuals. However, for these youth, that risk is even higher.
According to the Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 61% of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of depression, while three quarters reported symptoms of anxiety. One-half of LBGTQ teens ages 13-17 seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, and 18% made an actual suicide attempt – a number double the rate of US teens altogether. Research also shows that LGBTQ youth are 3.5 times more likely to attempt suicide than their non-LGBTQ peers.
Mental and emotional well-being are not the only challenges facing these youth. LGBTQ youth have higher rates of substance use, and up to 37% percent reported being physically threatened or harmed as a result of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Only one third of these youth experience parental acceptance, while one third experience outright rejection by their parents.
Sexual orientation and gender identity, in and of themselves, are not what place teens at higher risk of abuse, substance use, mental health concerns, and suicide. Rather, it is the isolation, stigmatization, harassment, and mistreatment that leads to a lack of connectedness and sense of belonging. Despite the challenges faced by LGBTQ youth, they report many sources of strength and joy – among which are having a doctor who is an ally, seeing happy and successful LGBTQ adults, and simply knowing there are other people out there like them.
Research shows that LGBTQ-affirming spaces, positive media representation, and community and family support can have a significant impact on the emotional well-being of LGBTQ youth. In fact, the rate of attempted suicide among LGBTQ youth drops to 6% when they have high social and family support.
This is why I wear my ribbon. My ribbon signifies to my patients that I am someone who can be trusted to welcome them for who they are. I will speak with them openly and honestly. I will use their preferred names and pronouns correctly – and apologize if I make a mistake.
It is a small gesture. But it is one that can have a tremendous impact by acknowledging our youth and empowering them to embrace and love who they are – not just in June, but every day of the year.
About the Author
Dr. Carmela Sosa has practiced pediatrics in both the urban and rural health settings – always focused on children with special healthcare needs and pediatric mental health. She joined Valley Children’s Charlie Mitchell Children’s Center in April 2012 to provide complex primary care to children of the Valley. Her roles expanded in 2016 to include Associate Program Director of the Valley Children’s Pediatric Residency Program, and again in 2019 to Medical Director of Valley Children’s Primary Care and Medical Director of the Guilds Center for Community Health.