LGBT+ young people disproportionately experience depression, anxiety and panic attacks

Report by ITV News Digital Journalist Jocelyn Evans

Young LGBT+ people are disproportionately experiencing depression, anxiety and panic attacks at secondary school age, figures shared exclusively with ITV News have revealed.

Almost half of LGBT+ secondary school students have experienced depression - and are twice as likely to struggle with their mental health compared to their non-LGBT+ peers.

The charity Just Like Us, which conducted the survey, said the findings were "devastating".

It's an experience Lili Hartlep is all too familiar with.

"As I grew up LGBT+ I met other peers and it was very common to have friends, myself included, who lived that experience of depression or anxiety or other mental health issues, connected to our gender identity or sexual orientation.

"So to see these stats confirm that it wasn't just my experience, it's not surprising - it's just saddening," she told ITV News.

Lili, who is bisexual and gender fluid, struggled with anxiety from around 12-years-old.

Lili started experiencing anxiety from 12 or 13-years-old and says she needed much more representation at school. Credit: ITV News

Now 25, she says her struggles with mental health were "definitely connected" to her gender identity and sexual orientation.

"I wasn't like the other kids, however, with the environment that I was in, it was very difficult to explore that at the time because there weren't any positive role models to look up to."

The biggest thing that would have made school easier, Lili says, is having education that normalised being LGBT+.

"Having school talks would have been really helpful, to have adults come in to the room and discuss these topics - normalising it, not just to me but also to my classmates and peers who maybe weren't LGBT+, it would have made me feel at ease and much more comfortable to be myself."

The survey found young transgender people had some of the highest rates (57%) of depression in the LGBT+ community.

For 21-year-old Isaac, that statistic is unsurprising.

"It doesn't feel shocking to me, mostly on a personal level, because it's very much in line with the experience I had, particularly with depression," Isaac told ITV News.

Isaac says he remembers feeling depressed from as young as 10-years-old. Credit: ITV News

"I can remember feeling depressed as young as 10-years-old, which is not the experience of most people and is quite unusual.

"But having become familiar with other people in the LGBT+ community, unfortunately that is a sad reality - that a number of us do struggle with our mental health for a number of reasons."

Isaac, who's trans and bisexual, recalls a sense of "cynicism" from a young age but says he lacked the tools to be able to talk about what he was feeling.

"I can almost remember the cynicism hitting me at a certain point and just thinking 'God, I'm not OK'. At that time I didn't have the vocabulary to describe things like my own gender and how I was feeling in relation to it, I didn't know really what a trans person was.

"So not having the words to describe how I was feeling, but really just feeling the pain and the suffering of it, really just led me down this dark mental path."

Isaac says a lack of "any form of education around LGBT+ topics" at school left him feeling lost, and left other young people, LGBT+ or not, unable to support him.

"It's also about the other people who were my age having the tools to be able to support me when I was going through that hard time too.

"If I had been afforded that opportunity to be open with everybody around me, and it been an open subject, it would have been really beneficial."

Both Lili and Isaac now work as ambassadors for Just Like Us, championing LGBT+ equality and allyship in schools.

Isaac says he thinks a lot about the difference seeing somebody like him would have made when he was in school.

The charity is urging more schools to sign up to receive talks and training. Credit: Just Like Us

"If I look at how I'm both Arab, grown up in a Muslim family, and trans as well [...] for a lot of the kids that I do Just Like Us talks for, I will be the first person ever in their lives they will have seen that looks like me and has my background.

"Most of them will have never spoken to a brown trans man, or have even thought about the possibility of someone like that existing.

"It first starts with representation, then people are open to having those conversations celebrating all of that amazing diversity."

People take part at a Black Trans Lives Matter march on the day Pride in London was due to take place in June 2020. Credit: PA

The Just Like Us survey found the mental health toll on Black LGBT+ young people was significantly greater than their white counterparts.

61% of Black LGBT+ young people were experiencing, or had experienced, depression when the survey took place.

Rates of depression among disabled LGBT+ young people were also worryingly high (63%).

Half of disabled LGBT+ teenagers had also experienced panic attacks.

The charity is encouraging schools across the UK to take part in School Diversity Week at the end of June - an initiative to make education settings safer, happier and more welcoming for pupils who may be LGBT+ or have LGBT+ families.

Chief Executive of Just Like Us, Dominic Arnall, called for more teaching establishments to send a positive message of acceptance to their students.

"It is devastating that so many LGBT+ young people are disproportionately struggling with depression, anxiety disorder and panic attacks, especially at such young ages."

"Data from our independent research demonstrates that LGBT+ young people who are Black, disabled and/or eligible for free school meals are even more likely to experience depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

"Just Like Us is pleased to be able shine light on the disparities that exist within the LGBT+ community as well - it’s clear that young lesbians, bisexual girls, and trans young people are struggling significantly more."

If any of the issues in this article have affected you or someone you know, there is always help available.

  • Switchboard the LGBT+ helpline can provide an information, support and referral services. Their phone line is open every day from 10am-10pm on 0300 330 0630.

  • Samaritans is on hand for anyone who’s struggling to cope, who needs someone to listen without judgement or pressure. They have a free 24 hour helpline on 116 123 and lots of other ways to get in touch.