LGBTQA+ Mental Health in Public Education
How can we improve the mental health of our LGBTQA+ youth?
There’s no question that the mental health of students in public education needs to be taken seriously. Poor mental health can affect grades, participation, cause substance abuse, and can cause even more serious problems down the line, such as depression. However, one group of kids are often brushed off when it comes to their mental health: LGBTQA+ students. LGBTQA+ students in the public education system are more susceptible to bullying, harassment, and even suicidal thoughts due to their sexuality/gender expression. In this essay, I would like to highlight the common problems LGBTQA+ students face in their day-to-day lives during adolescence and how school administrators, staff, and counselors can help improve and prevent mental health issues.
While the treatment of the LGBTQA+ community has come a long way in the past decade, there are still problems to address - especially with our youth. Studies show that almost 100% of LGBTQA+ students have heard derogatory slurs such as "faggot" and "gay" while in school, and over 90% have felt unsafe due to this language. In addition, over 60% of students who dealt with constant harassment due to their sexual orientation/gender identity were found to skip school more than the average student and suffered lower GPAs. (Regan et al, pg. 153) On the more extreme side of things, negative school experiences can cause suicidal thoughts and actions, substance abuse, and unsafe sex practices. (Winter et al, page 119). Seeing as how adolescents spend a significant portion of their time at school, there must be a few changes administrators and school boards can make to improve the livelihood of LGBTQA+ students and set them up for success.
One solution is to provide more inclusive, non-abstinence based sex education. Implementing thorough sex education can improve acceptance of LGBTQA+ students among their peers, as well as provide a safer, more comfortable environment for all students, not just LGBTQA+, to have their questions answered and learn without being judged. As of the year 2010, only a little over 40% of public schools in the United States include sexual identity as part of their sexual education curriculum. (Cianciotto and Cahill, page 73) This number is not justifiable when looking at the percentage of LGBTQA+ in schools. In fact, in 2016 the United States Center for Disease Control released a new survey that revealed:
“some 1.3 million kids, or roughly 8 percent of all high school students in America, report being lesbian, gay, or bisexual. (Schlanger, para. 3) Therefore, it’s critical to improve sex education across America; especially for students who might have limited resources at home or unaccepting parents. This will allow students to be able to gain access to the resources they need, such as information on safe sex for LGBTQA+ couples, and a support system among school staff and peers. “In schools with inclusive and comprehensive sex education curricula (including safer sexual practices for LGBTQ individuals), 75.2% of LGBTQ students said their peers were accepting of LGBTQ people compared to 39.6% of those without one.” (Regan et al, pg. 154)
GSA clubs, or gay-straight alliance clubs, have also been proven to help overall tolerance of LGBTQA+ students within schools, as they provide a safe place for LGBTQA+ students and heteronormative students to come together. GSA presence in existing schools provided "greater psychological wellbeing and educational attainment; school belonging; feeling safe; academic achievement; less truancy" and "less suicidality". (Fish and Karban, pg. 120) With GSA clubs in effect, students would be able to promote camaraderie amongst their peers (whether they’re LGBTQA+ or not) as the clubs could put on events, anti-bullying and anti-harassment campaigns, and provide a role model for LGBTQA+ students in their respective schools. Requiring GSA club presence in schools could also lead to parents, staff, and teachers taking LGBTQA+ health more seriously. In one study, they found that:
“Students in schools that had implemented staff training, nondiscrimination policies, or gay-straight alliances reported ‘less homophobic school climates’ and ‘higher levels of personal safety for sexual minority students.’” (Cianciotto and Cahill, page 155)
In conclusion, the mental health of LGBTQA+ students needs to be taken more seriously, as suicide rates, drop-out rates, and depression are at an all-time high among this group of youths. In order to make any kind of change, we need to implement more comprehensive sex education that will include information on sexual and gender identity, as well as adding GSA clubs to school’s rosters to provide a safe learning environment for students of all sexualities and gender expressions to come together. Providing these resources to LGBTQA+ students in public education will help to inform youth, lower bullying and harassment towards LGBTQA+ youth, and set up the future generations for success when it comes to tolerance and acceptance.
Cianciotto, Jason and Cahill, Sean. “Section 2 | A Comprehensive Review…” LGBT Youth in America’s Schools, University of Michigan Press, 2012.
Regan, Katelyn R., et al. “Partnering with Schools, Sports Teams, Religious Organizations…” AM:STARs LGBTQ Youth: Enhancing Care for Gender and Sexual Minorities : Adolescent Medicine: State of the Art Reviews. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2018. https://reader.aappublications.org/amstars-lgbtq-youth-enhancing-care-for-gender-and-sexual-minorities/1
Schlanger, Zoë. “A teen health survey…” Quartz, June 25, 2017. https://qz.com/1014142/a-teen-health-survey-crucial-to-us-public-policy-is-finally-asking-kids-about-their-sexual-orientation/
Winter, Elizabeth A., et al. “Social services for LGBT young people...” LGBT Health Inequalities : International Perspectives in Social Work, edited by Julie Fish and Kate Karban, Policy Press, 2015. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02615479.2017.1331515