More than 1 in 4 LGBTQ college students have considered dropping out of school because of mental health challenges, a survey released Thursday shows.
And a vast majority of LGBTQ students – 92% – say their mental health status has negatively impacted some part of their college experience, the survey by education resource and college ranking website BestColleges.com found.
The survey’s results raise concerns about the repercussions should fewer of these students complete college, according to BestColleges analyst Jessica Bryant, who authored the report.
“With educational outcomes, it doesn’t just end there with education, it impacts all future outcomes,” Bryant said. “If we are seeing less LGBTQIA students completing college, that will mean less LGBTQIA students in the workforce at the end, that’s not good either.”
Fewer LGBTQ graduates would be harmful to all parts of society, Bryant said.
“We know for a fact how beneficial all kinds of diversity is to a workforce and to push innovation in all industries,” she said. “So if we are seeing less of these students completing college, less of them in the workforce, it’s like we’re going back, it’s like we’re regressing.”
Challenges facing LGBTQ college students
The survey comes as more young people are embracing new identities: A recent Gallup poll found that 21% of Generation Z Americans – those born from 1997 to 2003 and a group that makes up the majority of college students – now identify as LGBTQ.
As LGBTQ students enter college, it is crucial to acknowledge the mental health challenges they face navigating their identity in a new environment, said Keygan Miller, public training manager at The Trevor Project, which provides crisis and suicide prevention services for those under 25.
“The transition to college or university can be challenging for any student,” they said. “But for LGBTQ college students in particular, they often have to navigate unique challenges regarding their identities.”
The include challenges being disconnected from supportive social networks, coming out to new friends and peers and struggling to find LGBTQ-affirming spaces on campus, Miller said.
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In the survey, students cited financial barriers, difficulty getting appointments and a lack of LGBTQ counselors as the top obstacles preventing them from seeking mental health assistance.
While having LGBTQ-identifying counselors at every college and university may not be realistic, training clinicians in LGBTQ topics and specific counseling can be a positive step, according to Laura Horne, chief program officer for Active Minds, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness about mental health among young adults.
“When you really drill down, that’s the concern that we hear most often from LGBTQ youth, that some providers are not trained to support the unique issues that they may be facing,” Horne said. “They’re there to receive quality care, but instead they often have to educate their care providers about their identities, and I often hear as well that fear of discrimination when accessing care can lead students to choose not to get care.”
Not all LGBTQ students are the same
Understanding how LGBTQ college students are not monolithic is also invaluable to addressing these mental health challenges, Horne said.
LGBTQ students who identify as “BIPOC” – an umbrella term for “Black, Indigenous, and people of color – were more likely to say they haven’t sought mental health assistance than white LGBTQ students, according to the survey, and were slightly more likely than their white LGBTQ peers to say their mental health has worsened since being in school.
LGBTQ youths with multiple marginalized identities have heightened amounts of fear and concerns around being able to find clinicians who understand and can meet the needs of their unique identities, Miller said.
“These students face unique challenges, whether it is heightened experiences of racism and discrimination, having less financial resources to afford college textbooks and other educational needs, or being able to find mental health care practitioners that understand and meet the needs of their intersecting identities, “they said.
Addressing mental health challenges requires preventive measures, Horne said, including working to make all campus spaces affirming for LGBTQ community members.
Colleges and universities can also support LGBTQ students by providing cultural competence training for professors, administrators and staff to ensure they have allies across campus, according to Miller.
Inclusive campuses allow students to have their preferred or chosen name in student registries and provide gender-inclusive housing and LGBTQ resource centers on campus, advocates say.
“I think that LGBTQ health and well-being is often delegated to the counseling center or to the LGBTQ centers that are on campus. It needs to be elevated as a priority campus wide,” Horne said. “We need heightened awareness of the fact that if we care about student mental health, we care about LGBTQ students, inclusion and belonging.”
If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.