LGBTQ+ youth with parent in military face much higher suicide risk

LGBTQ+ youth who currently have a parent in the military face "significantly higher rates" of suicide risk and mental health challenges, according to new data released Wednesday by the Trevor Project.

LGBTQ+ youth with at least one parent in the military face higher rates of mental health challenges and suicide risks, according to new data released by the Trevor Project (stock image).
LGBTQ+ youth with at least one parent in the military face higher rates of mental health challenges and suicide risks, according to new data released by the Trevor Project (stock image).  © 123RF/savvapanf

Researchers with the nonprofit – the world’s largest suicide-prevention and crisis-intervention organization for LGBTQ+ and questioning youth – analyzed the mental health challenges faced by LGBTQ+ kids and young adults with military parents to determine the link between being part of a military family and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide.

The data suggested that having a parent currently in the military was associated with 17% higher odds of recent anxiety symptoms; 14% higher odds of seriously considering suicide; and nearly 40% higher odds of attempting suicide in the past year.

Mental health issues were particularly common among LGBTQ+ youth younger than 18.

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"These data offer crucial insights into the unique mental health challenges faced by LGBTQ youth living with military parents, underscoring that this group faces significantly higher suicide risk compared to their peers," Dr. Jonah DeChants, research scientist at the Trevor Project, told the New York Daily News in an email.

Further research is still necessary to better understand the diversity of LGBTQ+ youth in military families, DeChants said. The analyzed data didn’t differentiate whether families have one or two parents in the military, whether they are deployed, or whether their family lives on a base.

"However, these data indicate a strong need for mental health care providers to prioritize competent services that demonstrate an understanding of both these young people’s LGBTQ identities, and their belonging to military families," he added.

Family support can reduce anxiety and depression for LGBTQ+ youth

The recent slew of anti-trans legislation in GOP-led states has been shown to have a particularly devastating effect on transgender youth in military families (stock image).
The recent slew of anti-trans legislation in GOP-led states has been shown to have a particularly devastating effect on transgender youth in military families (stock image).  © 123RF/inkdrop

Researchers also linked the level of acceptance LGBTQ+ youth receive at home with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide.

LGBTQ+ youth in military families with high levels of support had significantly lower mental health challenges when compared with those who reported low levels of support. They were associated with nearly 40% lower odds of anxiety symptoms, 56% lower odds of depression symptoms, and 46% lower odds of considering suicide in the past year.

The data highlight the importance of family support, which can take many forms, "from being available to talk about problems in a young person’s life, to being open to their LGBTQ friends, to using the correct name and pronouns," researchers wrote.

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The findings are especially relevant now given the recent wave of laws targeting LGBTQ+ youth – especially transgender youth – making their way through state legislatures around the country, as such laws can directly affect military families with LGBTQ+ youth who often move across the US.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, state lawmakers introduced 344 anti-LGBTQ bills this session, and 25 of them have passed.

For its latest brief, researchers used data from the Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health, which interviewed nearly 35,000 LGBTQ+ youth (ages 13 to 24) between September 20 and December 31, 2021.

Overall, 5% of LGBTQ+ youth reported having a parent currently in the military.

If you or someone you know need help, please contact the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for free and confidential support.

Cover photo: 123RF/savvapanf

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