Mental health supports reduce suicidality in LGBTQ+ students
According to a new survey from the Trevor Project, LGBTQ+ students who have access to mental health and LGBTQ+-specific services through their institution are significantly less likely to seriously consider or attempt suicide.
The organization, a nonprofit aimed at preventing LGBTQ+ youth suicide, surveyed 33,993 LGBTQ+ students attending two-year institutions, four-year institutions, and graduate schools. Participants were recruited through targeted social media advertisements.
About a third of respondents said they had seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 7% said they had attempted suicide during that time. Both numbers were higher among students of color and those who identify as transgender or non-binary.
But having access to mental health or LGBTQ+ support services in college reduced suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, the survey found. While 46% of students without access to mental health services said they had seriously considered suicide and 22% said they had attempted suicide in the past year, these rates were 32% and 6% , respectively, among students with access to these services.
Access to LGBTQ+-specific resources showed a similar benefit: 30% of students with access to LGBTQ+ university services had seriously considered suicide and 6% had attempted suicide, compared to 41% and 9%, respectively, of those who did not have such access.
The researchers who conducted the study said they weren’t surprised by the results. But they noted that the findings demonstrate why it’s so vital for colleges and universities to invest in mental health and LGBTQ+ services.
“It lets colleges know how important these things are,” said Myeshia Price, director of scientific research for the Trevor Project. “I think sometimes colleges have this reputation of ‘Of course we’re open and of course we affirm, of course we support LGBTQ+ people,’ but I think it’s important that they do whatever ‘they can show it, while young people don’t wonder if it is.
The majority of LGBTQ+ students surveyed – 86% – said their college offered mental health services. Some, however, reported encountering barriers when accessing these services: 33% said they did not feel comfortable going there, 29% said their mental health center in campuses had long waiting lists and 17% expressed privacy concerns.
Sixty-three percent of LGBTQ+ students said their university had some type of LGBTQ+-specific resource, such as an LGBTQ+ center, available to students.
The survey also found that 89% of respondents consider their school to be LGBTQ+ accepting, meaning they answered “somewhat” or “a lot” to the question “How accepting is your college/university it LGBTQ people? (The other possible answers were “not at all” and “a little”). This number was lower among students who said their campus did not offer LGBTQ+-specific services, with 45% of this group saying their college does not accept LGBTQ+ students.
Shane Mendez Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, a nonprofit aimed at making colleges safer for LGBTQ+ people, was surprised that so many students felt their school was accepting, noting that it generally varies. from one establishment to another.
“Most LGBTQ students report that the climate – their feelings of belonging, safety and inclusion – in middle school is better than they experienced in high school. And there is evidence that, overall, the campus climate has improved over the past 15 years,” Windmeyer wrote in an email. “However, this progress is not constant from one institution to another. Reports of harassment and discrimination, particularly for transgender students, remain an issue at a time when student learning and retention are central issues for higher education leaders.
Recently, Windmeyer said, LGBTQ+ students have reported instances of classroom harassment, as well as cyberbullying and racist and sexist language in conjunction with homophobic and transphobic rhetoric.
“Research on campus climate in general and LGBTQ climate in particular highlights the negative consequences of hostile climates on student learning, college persistence, and mental health and well-being,” they said. declared.
They speculated the data might be skewed because Project Trevor used what’s known as “snowball sampling,” a search technique that involves casting a wide net and hoping that the intended target study answers.
According to Windmeyer, this method is necessary for interviewing LGBTQ+ people — there is no good way to contact only people who identify as LGBTQ+, they said — but it can lead to inflated results.
“It’s an ongoing challenge that we have, because sometimes when you ask questions, you’re going to [only] get the people who want to share, which can skew the results one way or another,” they said. Inside Higher Education in an interview.
Price, of the Trevor Project, acknowledged that the methodology can have its shortcomings, but said the results still have merit.
“All research carries the potential for bias, not just from the participants in a study, but also from things like the framing of questions or the dissemination of research,” they said. “While there are ways to mitigate bias, there is no way to completely remove it from research. It is just as likely that we have an oversample of students who have negative experiences on campus. and who use online communities to affirm and support themselves. There is no way to offset the positive on-campus experiences of students in this analysis, as that is precisely what we are exploring. Different evaluations of the LGBTQ acceptance may generate different approval ratings and cannot be compared one-to-one.
Overall, Windmeyer agreed the survey was helpful, particularly as a clear call for administrators to start or continue investing in LGBTQ+ student supports.
“Campuses that take responsibility, have support services for LGBTQ students, students there are not at such a high risk of suicidality and other forms of depression,” they said. “They will be able to get better grades; they will be able to succeed academically if they get this support.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free, confidential 24/7 service that can provide people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, or those around them, with local support, information and resources. Dial 988 for assistance.