National survey results highlight concerns of the youth mental health crisis – particularly for LGBTQ+ students

Written by: Children's Campaign
Date Posted: October 28, 2022

This story includes the topic of suicide.  

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (en español: 1-888-628-9454; deaf and hard of hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. 

Recently released data from two national surveys show an urgent need for mental and behavioral health support for U.S. adolescents. The YouthTruth survey examines students’ perceptions of happiness, suicide, bullying, counseling programs, and why – or why not – students are able to access help at school. Meanwhile, the GLSEN survey explores the school climate landscapes experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) youth across the country, specifically. 

The YouthTruth Survey 

The YouthTruth survey was taken by more than 220,000 K-12 students across 20 states during the 2021-22 school year. While not nationally representative, the survey found that the middle and high school students surveyed overwhelmingly feel that depression, stress, and anxiety are the biggest barriers to their learning, while simultaneously reporting that they are struggling to get the support they need from their schools.  

Half of middle school students and 56% of high school students reported feeling depressed, stressed, or anxious as the biggest obstacle to learning. The second largest obstacle cited was distractions at home and family responsibilities, with 35% of middle school students and 37% of high school students saying that was the case. Additionally, less than half of middle and high school students say that they have an adult at their school they can talk to when they feel upset or stressed.   

These stressors are even more common among marginalized groups across genders. Female students, transgender students, and non-binary students all report that depression, anxiety, and stress impede their learning at higher rates than boys. Among high schoolers, 40% of boys, 67% of girls, 81% of transgender students, and 86% of non-binary students reported this. Just as the COVID-19 pandemic has had disparate impacts on different demographic groups, this highlights a similar trend in the converging youth mental health crisis. With an urgent need to make schools safer for LGBTQ+ youth, advocates must confront and address the unique sources of pain contributing to poorer outcomes for this group.  

The GLSEN National School Climate Survey 

Since identifying a lack of study on the school experiences of LGBTQ+ youth in 1999, GLSEN has been conducting its National School Climate Survey (NSCS) every two years. This survey documents the experiences of LGBTQ+ middle and high school students nationwide around a variety of issues, ranging from unique challenges faced, to the effects of hostile school climates on educational outcomes, to the availability of school resources and support. The survey, conducted from April to August 2021, sampled over 22,000 students from all 50 states. The analysis presents information at the national level.  

The survey has consistently indicated that specific school-based support correlates to a safer and more inclusive school climate. This includes supportive educators, inclusive curriculum and policies, and supportive student clubs. The NSCS Executive Summary is available in both English and Spanish 

Here are just a few key findings: 

  • Nearly 6 in 10 LGBTQ+ students (58.9%) experienced at least one instance of LGBTQ+-related discrimination in the past year. LGBTQ+ youth of color were at greater risk of experiencing multiple forms of bias-related peer victimization than their white LGBTQ+ peers.
  • LGBTQ+ students with access to LGBTQ+ inclusive curricular resources, including classroom learning and school libraries, perform better academically and are more likely to plan on pursuing postsecondary education. 
  • LGBTQ+ students who said they have 6 or more school personnel who were supportive of LGBTQ+ students, were less likely to say they missed school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable (20.1% vs. 42.4%). They reported higher self-esteem, lower levels of depression, and a decreased likelihood of having seriously considered suicide in the past year compared to students with no or few supportive personnel. 
  • Overall, LGBTQ+ students’ access to support services and resources declined in 2021, compared to recent years. 

Read the full reports at youthtruthsurvey.org and glsen.org/nscs.

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About Children's Campaign

The Colorado Children’s Campaign is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization committed since 1985 to realizing every chance for every child in Colorado. We advocate for the development and implementation of data-driven public policies that improve child wellbeing in health, education and early childhood. We do this by providing Coloradans with trusted data and research on child wellbeing and organizing an extensive state-wide network of dedicated child advocates. For more information, please visit www.coloradokids.org.