A new study from the National Institutes of Health shows that cyberbullying, dissatisfaction in family relationships, and unmet medical needs contribute to higher rates of depressive symptoms among LGBT youth across the United States.
“The study shows that adolescence is a critical window for interventions to address depressive symptoms experienced by sexual minority youth,” said Jeremy Luk, Ph.D., first author of the study and postdoctoral researcher at NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “Without appropriate screening and intervention, these disparities may likely persist into young adulthood.”
The study looked at a sample of 2785 adolescents across 22 states, starting in the 2009-2010 school year and tracked any symptoms of depression. Researchers followed the students from their 11th grade to three years after they left high school.
Results of the study showed that 30 percent of sexual minority teens lacked adequate healthcare for a year prior to the study, compared to 19 percent for heterosexual teens.
Approximately 32 percent of teens surveyed responded that they were victims of cyberbullying, while 14 percent reported not having any friends.
Luk explained that one of the motivations for him and his collaborators to conduct the study was looking into other sources of depression among LGBT youth.
“We wanted to identify additional contexts for interventions – so besides the home or school settings, we were interested in understanding sexual minority adolescents’ experiences in the cyberspace and in the healthcare setting,” he wrote in an email.
He added that his scientific community was aware of higher depressive symptoms among sexual minority youth, but their knowledge was “of why these disparities exist was limited.”
The study also placed a few limitations on the researchers’ conclusions.
Luk said that the study’s sample measured only sexual orientation based on attraction, rather than sexual behavior or identity – thereby expanding their sample. He also explained that the study could have started earlier to better examine when depressive symptoms begin to appear.
The Center for Disease Control recommends that schools implement evidence-based policies, procedures, and activities designed to encourage a healthy environment for all youth, including LGBT students – including but not limited to promoting respect for all students, identifying safe spaces, and encouraging student organizing to promote a healthy and respectful atmosphere.