LGBTQIA+ Students Continue to Face Unique and Severe Mental Health Burdens

LGBTQIA+ Students Continue to Face Unique and Severe Mental Health Burdens

Robert F. Meenan, MD, MPH, MBA


June is Pride Month, an occasion to celebrate the ongoing social progress of the LGBTQIA+ community. Unfortunately, it is also a time to recognize the unique and severe mental health burdens faced by LGBTQIA+ college students.

Being a college student is stressful. Going through a period of independence and identity development while dealing with academic pressures and career path uncertainties can feel overwhelming.

LGBTQIA+ students must also deal with additional stresses that include deciding when and if to disclose information about their sexual orientation or gender identity and how to adapt to behavioral expectations and reactions. That’s a lot to take on, especially for college students who are struggling with so many other challenges. 

report last year from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health documented  the severe mental health impacts of the COVID pandemic on LGBTQIA+ students, who reported more problems than their peers with mental health, motivation and focus, loneliness and isolation, academics, and missed experiences and opportunities. Other reports from the Journal of Adolescent Health and the Trevor Project documented similar findings. 

The impacts of the pandemic on LGBTQIA+ students are now being compounded by economic stresses, disrupted educational pathways, and “don’t say gay” political and social movements.

recent report from Best Colleges provides startling new findings on the mental health status of LGBTQIA+ college students:

  • 92% of LGBTQIA+ college students report their mental health has negatively impacted their college experience.
  • Almost a third of LGBTQIA+ college students (30%) had thoughts of suicide during the past year — nearly double the rate of straight students (16%).
  • 35% of LGBTQIA+ college students say the expense of mental health assistance has prevented them from seeking treatment.
  • LGBTQIA+ college students who also identify as BIPOC are more likely to say they haven't sought mental health assistance than white LGBTQIA+ students.
  • 30% of LGBTQIA+ college students have considered dropping out due to mental health concerns.

These findings underline the importance of enhancing mental health services for LGBTQIA+ college students with the aim of reducing their distress, improving their academic performance, and increasing their retention and graduation rates. 

Some of the key elements in an enhanced approach include:

  • Providing 24/7 access to mental health support, which is a critical element of any college mental health program.
  • Providing access to mental health services outside of the college counseling center for students who don’t want to disclose their identity or issues to college personnel. 
  • Offering access to a large and diverse network that includes providers who identify as LGBTQIA+ or who specialize in working with LGBTQIA+ clients.
  • Facilitating peer counseling which can be especially helpful for LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC students.
  • Eliminating financial barriers to receiving mental health services.

As we celebrate Pride Month, we remain committed to partnering with college and university campuses across the country to recognize and serve the unique mental health needs of LGBTQIA+ students.

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