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UCLA report finds LGBTQ+ youth face greater mental health challenges

The UCLA School of Law (pictured) is home to the Williams Institute. The Institute recently conducted a cross-generational study on mental and physical health outcomes of sexual minority individuals. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Matthew Beymer

Sept. 18, 2022 6:17 p.m.

This post was updated Sept. 21 at 11:13 p.m.

A recent study from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law discovered that despite increased social visibility, sexual minority youth face poorer mental health outcomes in comparison to previous generations.

The study – published in August – built upon existing research from Gallup’s 2016-2017 Generations report, the inaugural national sample survey of sexual minority adults in the United States. The three generations were divided based on major events for the LGBTQ+ community – the first cohort went through adolescence during the Stonewall riots, the second during the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the third during the 2015 legalization of same-sex marriage.

The report observed increases in physical health and decreases in mental health across the three generations. The research also found that bisexual and non-binary individuals face greater issues with social well-being than other groups.

Bianca Wilson, a senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute and co-author of the report, said the study shows assumptions should not be made about mental health trends for LGBTQ+ individuals despite social progress.

“The idea is to ensure that laws and policies are not being created around myths about LGBT people – around misinformation about LGBT people and their experiences,” Wilson said.

Stephen Russell, lead author of the study and director of the School of Human Ecology at the University of Texas, Austin, also said he has observed a phenomenon in which newer generations come out earlier and thus face school bullying at increasingly younger ages. This demonstrates the need for increased support from teachers and improved training for instructing LGBTQ+ youth.

The Williams Institute thus suggested vast improvements in mental health intervention despite increasing social visibility for LGBTQ+ youth.

[Related: UCLA report pushes to improve resources for LGBTQ students in higher education]

Furthermore, another recent study from the Williams Institute has also concluded that LGBTQ+ students continue to face challenges with inclusion in educational institutions, said Margaux Cowden, chief program officer at the Point Foundation, a scholarship fund striving for LGBTQ+ student access and success. According to a May report by the Williams Institute, only 15.3% of LGBTQ+ students at four-year colleges considered themselves to be “out” to the majority of their teachers.

“LGBTQ students are not necessarily seeing signals from universities that this is a space that is definitely affirming, where they are welcomed and where their well-being is a priority,” Cowden said.

Cowden said providing counselors and therapists trained to support LGBTQ+ students can help foster a welcoming environment, specifically those who can discuss hormone therapy or LGBTQ+ sexual health.​​ Hormone therapy has been found to improve mental health experiences with depression and anxiety, according to the Journal of the Endocrine Society.

“These things are crucial because increasingly, higher ed research has found that that experience of belonging and general well-being are crucial to student retention and persistence to graduation,” Cowden said. “This is also about ensuring that all students have the same opportunity to make it through college successfully and get a degree.”

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