LGBTQ+ children and young people
The acronym ‘LGBTQ+’ refers to people that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning. The + refers to an inclusive term for people who do not feel that they fit into traditional categories of sexuality or gender.
While being a member of the LGBTQ+ community is not automatically a risk factor for poor mental health, evidence suggests that LGBTQ+ young people may be more susceptible to mental health problems.
A research project into the mental health of LGBTQ+ young people, conducted by Youth Chances, found that LGBTQ young people report significantly higher levels of mental health problems including depression and anxiety, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
52% of LGBTQ people reported self-harming, compared to 35% of heterosexual non-trans young people. 44% of the LGBTQ+ young people surveyed reported suicidal thoughts, compared to 26% of heterosexual respondents.
How does identifying as LGBTQ+ affect children and young people’s mental health?
There are a range of complex risk factors that affect LGBTQ+ children and young people and contribute to the disproportionately high level of mental health difficulties in this community. These risk factors include:
- Discrimination and bullying: Research has found that nearly half of children and young people who identify as LGBTQ+ are subject to bullying in school.
- Hate crime: People who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to experience hate crimes or act of violence compared to heterosexual people.
- Isolation within the community: Identifying as LGBTQ+ can lead to children and young people feeling isolated and on the outside of friendship groups at school and at external clubs or activities. They can struggle with finding friendships where they feel accepted and comfortable.
- Coming out: Whilst the coming out process can be a liberating process for children and young people, it can also be a highly stressful and challenging time or a combination of both. It can also be a process that happens numerous times within their childhood.
- Discrimination in healthcare: LGBTQ+ children and young people and their parents or carers may experience discrimination. As a result, this may affect their ability to access services and the same level of support as the general population, for both their physical and mental health needs.
- Family problems: Some children and young people who identify as LGBTQ+ are rejected by their family and support network which may be due to conflicting religious or cultural beliefs and values. This can even lead to homelessness - nearly 1 in 10 LGBTQ+ young people have had to leave home for reasons relating to their sexuality or gender identity.
How can schools and further education settings support LGBTQ+ students?
If you are at all concerned about a child or young person, you should always speak to your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority. They will be able to advise on suitable next steps, and speaking to them about any concerns should always be the first action you take, ahead of any of the suggestions on this page.
There are a range of ways that education professionals can offer support to students that identify as LGBTQ+:
- Build respectful relationships with children and young people, making it easier for them to ask for help and support if they need it
- Listen to and respect the language people use to describe their identity, gender, sexual orientation and relationships.
- Avoid making assumptions about people’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Instead, consider using gender neutral terms, for example ‘partner’ instead of ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’.
- Assist the student to make connections with others who may have similar experiences can be helpful. This could include other young people that have mental health problems and/or with other LGBTQ+ young people in the community. This may include linking them with a local LGBTQ+ support group or online community.
- Always take LGBTQ+ discrimination seriously. For example, by supporting students to report instances of hate-crime or bullying, or by establishing strong anti-discrimination policies in your school environment.
- Speak about LGBTQ+ issues and support public LGBTQ+ events such as Pride Month within the school to help create a more open, comfortable and welcoming environment.
- Help students access specialist LGBTQ+ mental health services
- Guide the student to talk with their GP about a referral for talking therapies.
- Assist students to self-refer to LGBTQ+ charity sector organisations who may also offer free or low-cost support.
- Provide information on helplines and online support services.
- Signpost students and families to private therapists if requested; the Pink Therapy online directory lists therapists who work with LGBTQ+ clients.
- Support students to access help for suicidal feelings including crisis mental health services.
How can schools support students who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity?
Some students may not be openly LGBTQ+, but may still be questioning their sexuality or gender identity. Schools can offer support to these students in many ways:
- Don’t make assumptions. Let them tell you when they’re ready. Give them time and space to understand themselves, and to become more comfortable about sharing something so personal with you.
- Ask questions, and then listen. Showing interest in how they see themselves, and in their experiences at school and in their social life, will help them open up.
- Don’t disclose without permission. Having someone disclose information you weren’t ready to share can be very distressing. Let the student choose when and who they are willing to share this information with and how much information they would like to share. It will also help maintain the relationship you have with the student. However, if you believe a student is at risk, you should always immediately inform your safeguarding team.
- Respect the student’s unique experience. Understand that there may be some things the student is experiencing that you won’t understand. Sometimes LGBTQ+ young people will want to talk to other LGBTQ+ people, and it is important to respect this. Reinforce that you are there for your student if they need an alternative safe space to talk at school.
- Find support from LGBTQ+ specialist services. Your student and their parents are not alone. LGBTQ+ young people and parents of LGBTQ+ children find that meeting people who have had similar experiences helps them feel understood, empowered and connected.
- Your students are more than their sexual orientation or gender identity. Helping them stay engaged in other interests and activities is beneficial for their overall mental health and wellbeing.