LGBTQIA+ youth more likely to seek mental support

Filip Vukasin

2/03/2023 3:53:38 PM

But a headspace study of 12–25-year-olds shows they are less likely to ask for help from family or friends.

A young woman sitting with her arms crossed.
More than 75% of people who identify as LGBTQIA+ would seek support from a mental health professional if they were experiencing a problem, according to a headspace survey.

As Sydney World Pride continues, new research from headspace shows young LGBTQIA+ people are more willing to seek professional mental health services than their peers.
The National Youth Mental Health Survey shows that 76% of participants who identify as LGBTQIA+ would seek support from a mental health professional if they were experiencing a problem, compared to 69% of heterosexual and cisgender young people.
Formally known as the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, headspace offers services to 12–25-year-olds.
The organisation continues to see increasing numbers of young people identifying as LGBTQIA+, up from 24.1% in 2020–21 to almost 30% in 2021–22.
Reflecting on the research, headspace National Clinical Advisor Rupert Saunders says mental health services like headspace are important for young people who identify as LGBTQIA+.
‘It’s heartening to see so many LGBTQIA+ young people know help is available and that they trust headspace to support them in tough times,’ he said.
‘The survey also found [they] were significantly more likely to report high or very high levels of psychological distress, or to experience loneliness and isolation.’
According to the research, 49% of LGBTQIA+ young people dealt with their personal or emotional problems on their own rather than speaking to someone else, compared to 39% of peers.
‘Young people identifying as LGBTQIA+ were less likely than their peers to seek support from friends or family, who we know are important figures when it comes to early intervention in mental ill-health,’ Mr Saunders said.
‘Young people who come from families that fully support their sexuality and gender identity have better overall health, mental health and higher self-esteem.’
Dr Rebecca Overbury, a GP who works in a LGBTQIA+ focused clinic, told newsGP that young people appreciate non-judgemental and supportive professional care.
‘Most are happy to come here and know that we are open-minded, non-judgemental and that they are going to be listened to,’ she said.
‘Some don’t want to speak to a family doctor because they worry that information might get back to their families.’
Through working in her inner-city Melbourne clinic, Dr Overbury says she has observed an increasing acceptance among LGBTQIA+ youth to seek out professional help.
‘There has been a change since the lockdowns,’ she said.
‘Possibly, it’s because people go online and find others that feel the same way as them and they realise they’re not crazy or unusual and so find avenues for support and advice.
‘There is also more health literacy and there are a lot of discussions about mental health in the adolescent cohort, with terms like “OCD” and “social anxiety”, but sometimes it comes without the underlying diagnosis or in-depth education about the condition.
‘This can be challenging, but they can have a sophisticated knowledge of their issues and are often resourceful.’
Dr Overbury also sees young LGBTQIA+ people from rural Victoria.
‘Some may come with a parent who is supportive, but not knowing quite what to do,’ she said.
‘We see some trans kids from rural Victoria for gender affirmation. We can link them with our psychologist, and we have a sexual health physician who can start testosterone.’
Mr Saunders says it is important families educate themselves about the experiences of LGBTQIA+ young people and ‘learn how best to openly support their young person’.
‘This signals to young people they are loved and that you are there for them,’ he said.
Dr Overbury also sees benefit from organisations like the RACGP being proactive regarding LGBTQIA+ policies.
‘The push from the RACGP to discuss pronouns and not have assumptions about gender and sexuality are welcomed,’ she said.
‘It shows that the college is open minded and tells people they are appreciated. This makes people feel more accepted.’
She has seen this inclusivity spread to other clinics who want to set up their practices to be more welcoming, something her clinic has been doing successfully for many years.
‘We are supportive and positive, rather than just being concerned for them and they can see the joy in being queer,’ Dr Overbury said.
GPs can access a free online CPD-accredited course through e-Learning titled ‘Understanding LGBTIQ.
Online training for GPs is also available through the headspace website.
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