According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, youth in the LGBTQIA+ community experience trauma at higher rates than their straight peers. Historically, the needs of traumatized youth in the LGBTQIA+ community have largely been unrecognized, leading to poor engagement and ineffective treatment options that further perpetuate their traumatic experiences. Common trauma experienced by the LGBTQIA+ youth include bullying, harassment, traumatic loss, violence with intimate partners, physical and sexual abuse, and traumatic forms of societal stigma, bias, and rejection.
Research suggests that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) youth are at a greater risk of experiencing various traumas than their same-age counterparts. Some of these traumas may be specific to LGBTQIA+ youth who are at risk for discrimination, harassment, and abuse because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network explains a traumatic event as, “one in which we experience an immediate threat to ourselves or others, followed by serious injury or harm.”
“Many youth in the LGBTQIA+ community express challenges in finding the right fit for professional support,” says Desiree Nadeau, Clinician at Diversus Health. “Members of the LGBTQIA+ community oftentimes find themselves having to educate their provider about their traumatic experiences unique to the LGBTQIA+ community, and many of them cease professional services as a result. It is important that providers are educated about mental health in the LGBTQIA+ area and continue engaging in professional development and consultation to better serve the needs of this community, especially when traumatic experiences are involved.”
In some cases, trauma experienced by youth in the LGBTQIA+ community includes feelings of terror, helplessness, or horror because of the extreme seriousness of what is happening and the failure of being able to protect against or reverse the harmful outcome. The disproportionate experiences of trauma are related to higher rates of PTSD symptoms in LGBTQIA+ youth, as well as other negative mental and behavioral health outcomes.
Victimization in Childhood
Data reported in several studies discovered that emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, along with high rates of PTSD (possibly related to these experiences), are more prevalent in LGBTQIA+ youth than in heterosexual and cisgender youth. Victimization reports for LGBTQIA+ adults were up to two times higher for sexual and physical abuse, and approximately 1.5 times higher for emotional abuse during their childhood compared to their heterosexual/cisgender counterparts. Studies found that LGBTQIA+ adults have higher rates of PTSD, often related to childhood experiences, as well as depression, suicidality, and substance abuse. This research suggests that children, adolescents, and teens who do not look or act like society may expect them to based on the sex they were assigned at birth, experience more verbal, sexual, and physical abuse than their heterosexual/cisgender peers.
Victimization at School
The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has collected data from national surveys of LGBTQIA+ high school students across the United States, reporting findings that indicate a large majority of LGBTQIA+ students have frequently heard “gay” used in a negative way, homophobic remarks, and negative remarks about gender expression from their peers during the school day. About 40% of LGBTQIA+ high school students who participated in these studies had frequently heard negative remarks targeting transgender individuals. Unfortunately, over half of students surveyed reported hearing homophobic remarks about gender expression from their teachers or other school staff. More than 60% of the students who reported an incident at school, said school staff did nothing in response to their complaints or told the student to ignore it.
Resilience of LGBTQIA+ Youth
In the face of adversity, many characteristics contribute to the resilience of LGBTQIA+ youth. Traits that contribute to their resilience include intelligence, autonomy, special talents or skills, and a strong sense of self-esteem. Individuals who possess good interpersonal, problem-solving, communication, and adaptive coping skills are better able to cope more effectively with traumatic life events and PTSD. Family acceptance of LGBTQIA+ youth and their sexual orientation and/or gender identity may have a protective effect against many threats to their well-being, including health risks, drug use, and suicide.
Likewise, school safety and compassion from caring adults in the youth LGBTQIA+ community have demonstrated significant protective factors against suicide ideation, as well as mental and behavioral health. Having access to accepting and knowledgeable treatment providers with experience working with LGBTQIA+ youth can be a significant advantage on the health risk factors they may be experiencing.
Treatment for Trauma in LGBTQIA+ Youth
An affirming provider with experience working with LGBTQIA+ youth may play a key role in an individual’s life, especially if they have been exposed to trauma. It is important to recognize the challenges LGBTQIA+ individuals face when finding a professional mental health care provider. Oftentimes, youth in the LGBTQIA+ community may face discrimination when they request services and disclose their identity or sexual orientation. It is not uncommon for youth or their caregivers to be given inaccurate information or resources, especially for transgender individuals seeking support for medical intervention and information.
“Prospective clients should engage in conversation with any new provider by asking questions around that provider’s training and competencies, theoretical orientation, and approach to care in order to determine a good fit,” says Nadeau. “It is important for LGBTQIA+ individuals to feel supported in achieving their mental health and wellness goals.”
Finding a knowledgeable and accepting provider is significant for LGBTQIA+ youth in order to access support for their physical and mental health and well-being. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network recommends that providers closely examine their own beliefs and experiences when working with LGBTQIA+ youth and strive to create an inclusive environment through intentional visual cues, policies, and paperwork that demonstrates that LGBTQIA+ youth are welcome at their practice. If you or someone you love in the LGBTQIA+ youth community is seeking safety and support, request an appointment with one of our professional mental health providers at Diversus Health today.
*If you need immediate assistance, please call our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255.