According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) individuals are more than twice as likely to have mental health disorders in their lifetime and 2.5 times more likely to experience depression and anxiety and use substances, compared to heterosexual individuals.
The APA also reported that among LGBTQ youth, the rate of suicide attempts is four times greater than among heterosexual youth. The rate is two times greater for questioning youth, compared to hetero-sexual youth. Click here to read the APA fact sheet for additional details.
In 2019, Mental Health America (MHA) published a report based on mental health screening data obtained from nearly 300,000 LGBTQ individuals between 2017 and 2019. More than half of the LGBTQ individuals who were screened were between 11 and 17 years of age. The majority (86%) of these youth screened positive for moderate to severe mental health conditions, which, according to MHA, is the highest rate of all age groups of LGBTQ individuals.
Individuals who identified as transgender were most likely to screen positive for mod-erate to severe mental health conditions (89%) and those aged 11 to 17 years were determined to have the highest risk. Half of the LGBTQ individuals who were screened reported significant thoughts of suicide or self-harm, compared to 33% of non-LGBTQ screeners.
In addition, LGBTQ individuals were most likely to take the eating disorder screen (38%), which underscores the importance of early identification and treatment for eating disorders among LGBTQ youth.
Click here to read the MHA report.
Inspiring Conversation with Gerard Dalton
Gerard Dalton, Principal at Millstone River School, West Windsor-Plainsboro School District, knew from an early age that he was gay. “It was clear to me, but society made it clear that it was not acceptable to even talk about it, never mind seek acceptance,” he said. “Growing up in the 1970’s and as a teen the 1980’s, we did not have the role models of people living openly as we do now. We also spent less time watching television and didn’t have the internet as a resource.”
“The term ‘fag’ was used quite regularly as were racial words, at least in the area where I grew up. From the time of about 11 years of age on, I also struggled with my weight, so being called a ‘fat fag’ was often a daily occurrence. There were many times in my early teens that I retreated and spent a lot of time alone,” Gerard recalled.
“Each time I would hear the terms, ‘fag,’ ‘gay’ or ‘queer,’ I immediately felt that all eyes were on me, that my secret was going to be shared. By my 20’s, I learned that my father was in fact gay, but had never really accepted himself. His push to hide his identity was a major contributor to his alcoholism. Sadly, until his death, he could never utter the fact that he was gay in any sort of direct way,” he shared.
Gerard found support when he went to college. “It was probably the first experience where there was open exposure, dialogue and friendships with people like me. Some mainstream music and acting stars were becoming known as gay, but pejorative terms were still very much in play. Sadly, this was the same time that AIDS become known to the world and the lack of acceptance by our world was a clear communication of shame that should be shared by the gay community. Thank-fully, so many came forward to fight that stigma. Actors, singers and others began to speak up. For me personally, it was a scary time with so much unknown,” he said.
When he was in his 20’s, Gerard joined a support group, Gay Activist Alliance of Morris County (GAAMC), which further helped him cope and overcome the challenges of being gay. “As a member of GAAMC, I attended and walked in my first NYC Pride Parade. Though my uncle knew I was gay, it was at that parade as I carried a banner for the group that he saw me and ran over to hug me. It was one of the first family acknowledgements of acceptance that meant so much, right there in the middle of a New York City parade,” he recalled. “I later expressed my true identity to the remainder of my family. Of course, they said they had always known.”
“Mainstream society is still very much focused on the straight and white world, but it has been changing. We are seeing more characters in television, movies, athletics and so on to look to as reference that being LGBTQIA and open is acceptable,” Gerard observed. [IA stands for intersex and asexual or allied.]
He shared the following advice for LGBTQIA youth: “First and foremost, know that you are not alone and you will be accepted. School counselors and other professionals are now better trained and equipped to hear you and validate you and offer counseling. Student groups are now available in many schools. Beyond that, it’s about finding allies and others like your-self.”
Gerard added, “You have to be able to make your own decisions as to when you care to discuss or reach out to others, but know there are so many more allies in the current day. We also have so much avail-able online to do some of the research of local organizations that may be able to help. Even religious groups have demon-strated, in some cases, more acceptance and may have youth groups that are welcoming. It goes back to personal choice of what works for you, but I am hoping it is better and this generation does not have to wait as long to seek acceptance.”
Gerard’s Connection to AIR
Gerard learned about AIR from the student programs presented in the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District. “We then worked with AIR to offer parent programming. I remained in contact with the Bakers and reached out during some school crisis situations. They supported the schools during the crises with therapy dogs and then maintained the relationship with continued preventive programming,” he said.
“AIR makes a great impact that is hard to measure. It is hard to measure because we will not know how much it has mattered for the experience of each young person. Whether being present with dogs and an open ear during a crisis or to share the very personal story of Kenny, the impact is enormous,” Gerard said.
“The actions of AIR communicate accep-tance. Acceptance of each individual and their uniqueness. Acceptance that you may have a struggle and that it’s okay to have a struggle. The idea that it’s okay to openly talk about your identity, your feelings, your struggles and that you are not alone is something that AIR communicates. AIR communicates, ‘I hear you, I see you and what you say matters to me.’ – to quote Oprah,” Gerard added. “These actions convey acceptance, which is what young people need as they navigate this compli-cated world. No longer can we use the idea of tolerance. We tolerate pain or negative circumstances. We must offer acceptance. AIR’s programs, the Bakers and the dogs offer love and hope.”