Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or questioning (LGBTQ) students go through a period where they struggle to fit in or feel alienated by their student body. It is important to understand their perspectives and address common feelings they may have as they enter or continue their college experience.
Dr. Victor Schwartz, Medical Director of The Jed Foundation, a leading not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting emotional health and preventing suicide among college students, answers a few questions regarding issues many LGBTQ students face, as well as how college students and campuses can promote acceptance and more inclusive communities.
Q: Is mental health or suicide an issue among LGBTQ students?
A: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth face many social factors like discrimination or bullying that can lead to feelings of isolation and potentially depression. Suicide is the leading cause of death among LGBTQ teens, and transgendered teens are 20 times more likely to contemplate, attempt or complete suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.
Q: How can I help someone who may be struggling?
A: If you know someone who may be struggling with their sexuality, make sure they know you are supportive and willing to talk about anything. Let them make decisions about their sexual orientation on their own terms and when they are ready. If someone reveals their sexual orientation to you, it is important to be supportive and allow them to talk through their feelings and fears. Coming out can be a difficult process and it helps to have a strong support network.
Q: What can I do if I see someone being discriminated against?
A: Cultural attitudes about sexuality are slowly improving, but there are still people in our society who are intolerant of personal differences and discriminate against people who are perceived as different. Harassment and abuse should never be tolerated. It’s our responsibility to stand up against discrimination and harassment. If you see someone being treated unfairly, reach out to that individual and report it to an authority figure. It’s important not to assume these issues will resolve themselves. Being bullied, mistreated or discriminated against can make it more likely someone will become distressed or worse.
Q: What is being done to help LGBTQ students?
A: Most college campuses have groups dedicated to promoting the emotional wellbeing of LGBTQ students. There are also many organizations that have been created to bring awareness to the challenges these students face daily and educate their peers on the boundaries and language to use to respect these students. Organizations such as Love is Louder work online, through the media and in communities to strengthen emotional health by building resiliency, creating connectedness, promoting acceptance and equipping advocates to support their peers. The Love is Louder movement has already inspired hundreds of thousands of people around the world to take action to feel more connected, support others and get help if needed.
Q: What is the Love is Louder movement?
A: Love is Louder was started by The Jed Foundation, MTV and Brittany Snow to support students feeling mistreated. Individuals, communities, schools and organizations have embraced Love is Louder as a way to address issues like bullying, negative self-image, discrimination, loneliness and depression. In 2012, students from Trinity School in New York City made videos expressing support for their LGBTQ peers. It has become a social movement where students are changing their school’s culture. The Love is Louder movement made this program, now called Straight Up Love is Louder, national so all students in schools across the country can work together to make their communities more supportive and inclusive.
Q: What are some things I can do to help build resiliency and increase connectedness?
A: To be an advocate to support your peers, start by:
- Identifying yourself or someone they could go to if they needed to talk or seek help.
- Override the internal and external negative voices by shifting perspective.
- Practice positive behaviors that are proven to lessen and prevent symptoms of depression, such as gratitude exercises and doing things to improve their community and help others.
- Be aware of word choice; be empathetic to how other people feel.
Q: Where can I go for more information?