A new study has found that LGBTQ youth with parents in the military deal with significantly higher rates of mental health challenges and suicide risk than those with non-military parents.
Facilitated by The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that has led suicide prevention efforts in the LGBTQ community since 1998, the study’s findings were based on nearly 35,000 survey responses collected between October and December 2020.
Of note in the team’s findings, LGBTQ youth with military parents reported 40% higher odds to attempt suicide than the non-military affiliated demographic. Additionally, LGBTQ respondents reported 14% higher odds of serious suicidal contemplations, while 17% indicated higher odds of anxiety. Depression and substance abuse rates were also higher among the military-affiliated group.
Influential factors include periods of separation stemming from deployment or training, as well as concern for a relative’s safety, the authors found.
Frequent moves, meanwhile, were recorded as one of the greatest challenges for LGBTQ youth, who face the added difficulty of finding “an LGBTQ-affirming community, or having to come out repeatedly” after each subsequent move.
“These data offer crucial insights into the unique mental health challenges faced by LGBTQ youth living with military parents, underscoring that this group faces significantly higher suicide risk compared to their peers,” Dr. Jonah DeChants, a research scientist at The Trevor Project, said of the 1.6 million youth with military parents.
Of the study’s participants, those located in the South represented the highest rate of having a parent currently serving. Additionally, Black, Indigenous, and multiracial youth respondents comprised the highest rate of military affiliation, “racial disparities [that] echo pre-existing data on racial demographics in the military, which show that people of color are overrepresented compared to their White peers in some branches,” the authors wrote.
“[There is] a strong need for mental health care providers to prioritize competent services that demonstrate an understanding of both these young people’s LGBTQ identities and their belonging to military families,” DeChants added.
Such initiatives, the authors wrote, must begin with LGBTQ competency training for on-base medical staff — in addition to non-military affiliated providers — to best understand the impact military service can have on the family dynamic, especially when it comes to the mental health of a child.
While the study’s findings were concerning, the authors acknowledged that, given the Defense Department’s 2010 repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, as well as the 2021 elimination of a transgender ban, “inclusion of out and open LGBTQ service members is still a relatively new phenomenon.”
That sentiment is backed by a 2021 study, which found that 62 percent of LGBTQ service members perceived the military’s family support resources as insufficiently trained to meet the needs of LGBTQ families.
“The military itself, and organizations dedicated to supporting the mental health of service members and their families — especially in the area of suicide prevention — should actively take into account the needs of LGBTQ people,” the authors concluded, “and create welcoming and affirming spaces for families with LGBTQ members.”
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.