Young LGBTQ+ people who feel supported are more likely to be happy in adulthood
Unsupportive home or school backgrounds have a detrimental effect on the mental health of young LGBTQ+ people, a new study has found.
The Positive Futures report, carried out by charity Just Like Us, found young queer people who were supported growing up were nearly twice as likely to be happy in early adulthood.
They were also twice as likely to feel good about themselves, and four times less likely to feel ashamed of being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
The charity surveyed 3,695 people between the ages of 18 and 25 – including 1,736 young adults who identify as LGBTQ+.
This report comes at the start of Pride month, and launches Metro.co.uk’s coverage of the stories, challenges, and joy of the queer community.
Two young LGBTQ+ people told us about how growing up in a supportive environment can truly make a difference.
Wren Hills, a 20-year-old transgender man, said: ‘I was in foster care as a child, from the age of 5 until I was 18.
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‘My carers weren’t supportive of anything – If I had come out when I was in care, it would’ve resulted in even more issues and pain.
‘As far as school, it was quite rough, LGBTQ+ individuals would be bullied by other school kids, and the teachers wouldn’t do anything about it.
‘This impacted me as an adult because I couldn’t trust anyone, even when people would ask about my identity, I would feel the need to lie and hide it, even if the person’s intentions were genuine.’
Pippa Sterk, who identifies as a lesbian and uses she/they pronouns, described a more positive experience to Metro.co.uk.
‘From a young age, my parents never just assumed that I would want to get married and have children at all, let alone get married and have children with a man,’ the 25-year-old added.
‘They always raised me with the idea that I was allowed to live my life in the way that made me happy, even if that meant doing things differently than they had done them.
‘They also never lied to me or told me I was too young to have any questions: when we saw trans characters on television they would just explain that some people grow up to be a different gender than the world expects them to be, and when they’d talk about their gay or lesbian friends, their orientation would never be hushed up or seen as “inappropriate”.
‘Being honest with me and encouraging me to ask questions helped a lot in feeling like it wasn’t shameful or weird when I did start dating a girl.’
The study found a strong link between a lack of inclusive support in childhood and poorer outcomes for wellbeing in early adulthood.
Young queer people are also concerned about their future, with those who are unsupported being three times more likely to not be confident they will have a career they will enjoy, and three times more likely to feel pessimistic about their future.
They are also half as likely to feel confident they will find a life partner and have children, even though they want to.
Concerningly, those who don’t feel supported are more than twice as likely to have had suicidal thoughts and more than twice as likely to have self-harmed.
They are also significantly more likely to have experienced panic attacks and depression than those who do feel supported with their sexuality or gender.
Just Like Us has now called for better support for young queer people, particularly in schools.
Metro.co.uk has previously reported extensively on how LGBTQ+ education still needs to improve in schools, despite the scrapping of Section 28 of the Equality Act in 2003 – which prohibited the ‘promotion of homosexuality’.
Key statistics from the report
The LGBTQ+ people who grew up in unsupportive environments, as opposed to supportive ones, were:
- Nearly half as likely to say they are happy in adulthood (43% vs 85%)
- Four times more likely to feel ashamed of being LGBTQ+ as an adult (41% vs 9%)
- Half as likely to feel good about themselves (41% vs 89%)
- More than four times as likely to ‘never or rarely’ feel close to other people (49% vs 11%)
- More than three times as likely to ‘never or rarely’ feel optimistic about their future (42% vs 12%)
- Three times more likely to not be confident they’ll have a career they enjoy (48% vs 17%)
- Half as likely to be confident they will find a life partner (34% vs 70%)
- Half as likely to be confident they will have children, even though they want to (25% vs 49%)
- More than twice as likely to have had suicidal thoughts and feelings (85% vs 39%)
- More than twice as likely to have self-harmed (71% vs 33%)
- More than twice as likely to have experienced panic attacks in the past year (60% vs 28%)
- Nearly twice as likely to have experienced depression in the past year (82% vs 42%)
When asked how support can be improved, Pippa said: ‘What would really help is to foster a culture where parents and carers are not seen as the “owners” of their children’s lives or futures.
‘Yes, a young person’s identity might be confusing at first, and it might seem very easy to try to avoid facing this confusion by being dismissive of the young person themselves.
‘However, what would help young people more is the understanding that parents and carers are also always learning how to be parents and carers, and that part of that learning involves asking questions, and finding out how you and your child can communicate, rather than presuming that parents and carers always know best.’
Wren added: ‘I feel that parents and carers need to improve their support of LGBTQ+ young people.
‘Parents and carers should love their child unconditionally, no matter what. If a parent does not understand, research is always handy, or asking the child about it. Schools can also be more supportive by encouraging a child to be themselves, and always being there to support them.’
Amy Ashenden, interim chief executive officer of Just Like Us, said: ‘LGBTQ+ young people deserve to feel safe and supported both at home and at school, and it’s heartbreaking to see the prolonged, devastating impact in early adulthood when this is not the case.
‘From their mental health, hopes for the future and career prospects to their relationships with themselves and others, our Positive Futures report clearly shows that supporting LGBTQ+ children is absolutely vital for their chances of happiness and success as adults.
‘We invite everyone who works with or cares for a LGBTQ+ young person to read the report and be vocal about their support.
Report recommendations for schools
- Teachers should begin talking about LGBTQ+ people positively from the outset, and from as early an age as possible (for example, by reading diverse books and talking about different family structures)
- Set up and run a Pride group, providing a safe and welcoming place for LGBTQ+ people and allies
- Show visible signs of acceptance, such as posters, rainbow ribbons and lanyards
- Overturn the legacy of Section 28 and support queer school staff to come out
- Ensure LGBTQ+ people are talked about positively in a consistent way, and not just for Pride month
- Ensure anti-LGBTQ+ language and bullying are not tolerated
- Show pupils that being LGBTQ+ doesn’t mean they can’t go on to live happy, successful and fulfilling lives
‘Young people desperately need to hear that the adults in their lives unequivocally believe that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans does not make you lesser than, but is in fact something to be celebrated – otherwise we will see another generation facing the heart-wrenching outcomes detailed in the report.’
Teachers can take part in the charity’s School Diversity Week between June 26 and 30 this year.
Amy added: ‘[It will] show young people that being LGBTQ+ is nothing to be ashamed of – a message that young people still desperately need to hear in their everyday lives.’
Professional services firm Deloitte supported Just Like Us with the report, with the research carried out by market research company Cibyl.
The charity’s first report, Growing Up LGBT+, was published in 2021. Today’s full report from two years on can be found here.
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