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The mental health of high school students, particularly teenage girls and LGBQ+ youth, worsened from 2011 to 2021. This comes from a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, which found that nearly 70% of LGBQ+ high school students in 2021 had experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the past year. More than 50% reported poor mental health during the past 30 days. These numbers are far worse compared to their heterosexual peers (22% of whom reported experiencing poor mental health during the same period).
The report also says creating a safe, inclusive learning environment is essential to improving the well-being of LGBQ+ youth. Let's dig into the numbers to learn more about mental health trends.
The 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found a higher rate of poor mental health indicators such as bullying, drug use, and suicide attempts among LGBQ+ teens.
That year, high school students who identified as anything besides heterosexual experienced higher rates of bullying on school grounds.
In 2019, LGBQ+ students were more likely to use illicit drugs at least once compared to their heterosexual peers. According to the CDC, increased drug and alcohol usage can potentially cause or perpetuate mental illness.
Most notably, the prevalence of suicidal thoughts and attempts among LGBQ+ high school students was greater than among heterosexual teens. In 2019, at least 40% of gay, lesbian, or bisexual students in the survey had seriously considered suicide in the past year, compared to 14.5% of heterosexual students.
Suicide attempt rates for LGBQ students were at least double the national average of 8.9% for all high school students in 2019.
The survey also includes the location of students in certain states and cities, though the data is incomplete. Of the states included, West Virginia had the highest suicide attempt rate for gay, lesbian, or bisexual students at 32.1%, followed by Arkansas (29.7%) and Mississippi (29.6%). Newark, New Jersey, had the highest overall suicide attempt rate out of any measured city at 35.7%.
Despite the high rate in Newark, state suicide attempt rates for gay, lesbian, or bisexual students were lowest in New Jersey (13.2%), Hawaii (15.2%), and New York (17.2%). Of all measured cities, Seattle had the lowest rate at 12%.
The CDC tracks suicide data to understand, monitor, and prevent suicide and suicidal behavior. It supports several national, state, local, and tribal organizations that provide suicide prevention resources and tools.
Creating safe and supportive school environments is particularly important for LGBTQ students, according to the CDC. One way is to create gay-straight alliance organizations in schools (sometimes called GSAs). These organizations are up from 23% in 2008 to 40% of schools in 2018.
Another way to create supportive and safe school environments for LGBTQ youth is by providing professional development programs for all school staff on policies and practices that support all youth. The CDC also recommends implementing quality health education grounded in science that teaches medically accurate information and is culturally inclusive for LGBTQ and minority students.
For more information about suicide prevention, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
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According to YRBS, the survey did not have a question assessing gender identity, so the report does not include data on transgender students. Future versions of the survey will include a gender identity question.
While certain states did not meet the minimum reporting threshold for conclusive results, local school districts that did meet this threshold were included. Hence why Seattle is listed above, while Washington state is not.
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