Healthy minds for all

The Trevor Project's National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ+ Youth Highlights Ways to Show Support


The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization, leads suicide prevention and crisis intervention for LGBTQ+ youth. In the wake of a gay teen who took his life because of his identity and the bullying he endured, the Trevor Project was founded in his honor and understands the importance of mental health and actively supports initiatives for young queer people and offers resources to save lives.

Each year, the organization conducts a national survey on the mental health of LGBTQ+ young people. The initiative surveys 18,000 queer people ages 13 to 24 and analyzes the data to better understand the needs of tomorrow's queer leaders. The survey also uncovers "the reality that there is a significant association between anti-LGBTQ+ victimization and disproportionately high rates of suicide risk – and that far too many young people struggle to access the mental health care they need."

The good news is "the survey critically provides data-driven ways we can all show support and acceptance for the LGBTQ+ young people in our lives... as well as the potentially life-saving benefits of creating affirming spaces and communities." The responses were overwhelming with respondents sharing messages of advice and encouragement to other young people in the community. Despite the challenges and work that still needs to be done, the results show that "young people remain powerful, optimistic and resilient."

Data from the survey reveals how young people report ways folks in their life can best show their support and acceptance, including standing up for LGBTQ+ young people, understanding their unique challenges like respecting young people's pronouns, asking questions, and respecting gender expression. The survey also details ways people can show up as an ally: accepting and respecting their partners, showing support on social media, calling out harmful and discriminatory language, and displaying Pride flags. These small but powerful actions help to maintain strong mental health in LGBTQ+ young people for building productive, healthy, and long-lasting lives.

Additionally, the survey shows how access to affirming spaces and communities bolsters mental health. Respondents to the survey indicated that online (68%) is the leading community space for affirming young queer people. Other places include, home, work, school, and community events as vital to helping these young queer people feel safe and supported. These places were also vital for these young folks to find role models and mentorship who encouraged and lifted them up.

To conclude the survey, respondents were asked to share words of encouragement as a way of building community and reminding those who are struggling that they are not alone. "Finding a community, people you can be yourself around, is life changing," wrote one respondent. Another echoed that sentiment: "You aren't alone my friend. Remember, there's a whole wide world with people like you and me." And finally, to remember the struggles we've overcome and to stand where we are now in a healthy mental state: "You've come so far," one responder wrote, "and I am so, so proud of you."

To commemorate the stories of young queer people – and queers of every background, age and intersectionality – Matt Cullen, a documentarian in Los Angeles, created a docu-series that explores queer stories of mental health challenges, coming out, struggles with identity and more. The inspiration to launch the docu-series came in the fallout of the COVID pandemic and Cullen's urge to connect to his community and nourish his mental health after being cooped up in lockdown.

Cullen's first interview was with Rob, an ex-Jehovah's Witness who was shunned by his family for coming out as gay. "Coming out of the closet for Rob meant losing his entire family; his mom, whom he had the closest relationship with, no longer talked to him," Cullen told Out in an interview about the docu-series. "He was still grappling with this – the person supposed to love you unconditionally, cutting off all communication solely based on who you choose to love."

"In a world that is so quick to shun our community, I want to continue interviewing individuals to humanize our experience and show others that we are more alike than one would think. We may all come from different walks of life, but we all want the same things: love, acceptance, a roof over our heads, and to live another day with a smile," says Cullen.

Though we face many challenges, the research is clear: Access to affirming care, love, and support helps our mental health so that we may flourish and thrive. Data-driven insights like the ones found in the Trevor Project's National Survey help uncover ways we can work to improve our mental health, and stories from documentarians like Matt Cullen shed light on our struggles so that allies can step up and show support. The lessons are emotional, yet empowering. "After more than two years on this journey, my guests have connected with me on a deeper emotional level," concludes Cullen, "teaching me what I'd hoped to learn all along: my community is full of strong, layered, unique, beautiful, honest, and resilient people."

Sponsored by McDonald's

by Roger Porter

This story is part of our special report: "McDonald's Unity in Diversity and Mentally Strong Editorial Series". Want to read more? Here's the full list.

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