The teen years are, for many, a time of rewarding friendships, noble idealism (think Parkland), and an expanding vision for life’s possibilities. But for others, especially those who vary from teen norms, life can be a challenge. Nonheterosexual teens, for example, sometimes face contempt, harassment, or family rejection. And that may explain their having scored higher than other teens on measures of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts and attempts (see here, here, here, and here).
But many of these findings are based on older data and don’t reflect the increasing support of gay partnerships among North Americans and Western Europeans. In U.S. Gallup polls, for example, support for “marriages between same-sex couples” soared from 27 percent in 1996 to 64 percent in 2017. So, have the emotional challenges of being teen and gay persisted? If so, to what extent?
I’ve wondered, and recently discovered, an answer in the 2015 data from the annual UCLA/Higher Education Research Institute American Freshman survey (of 141,189 entering full-time students at a cross-section of U.S. colleges and universities). The news is mixed:
- Most gay/lesbian/bisexual frosh report not having struggled with depression.
- Being gay or lesbian in a predominantly heterosexual world remains, for a significant minority of older teens, an emotional challenge.
Can we hope that, if attitudes continue to change, this depression gap will shrink? In the meantime, the American Psychological Association offers youth, parents, and educators these helpful resources for understanding sexual orientation and gender identity, including suggestions for how “to be supportive” of youth whose sexual orientation or gender identity differs from most others.