LGBTQ+ Kids in Military Families Have More Mental Health Risks: Study

Military family
Military family

LGBTQ+ youth who have a parent in the military report significantly higher rates of mental health challenges and suicide risk, according to a new research brief by the Trevor Project.

The brief, out Wednesday, draws on data from the Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. Five percent of the youth in the sample reported having a parent currently in the military.

Having a parent currently in the military was associated with 17 percent higher odds of recent anxiety symptoms, 14 percent higher odds of seriously considering suicide in the past year, and nearly 40 percent higher odds of attempting suicide in the past year, after controlling for demographic variables. These issues were particularly common among those under 18.

However, family support makes a huge difference. Among LGBTQ+ youth with a parent currently in the military, having high levels of family support was associated with nearly 40 percent lower odds of recent anxiety symptoms, 56 percent lower odds of recent depression symptoms, and 46 percent lower odds of considering suicide in the past year.

“Family support can take many forms, from being available to talk about problems in a young person’s life, to being open to their LGBTQ friends, to using the correct name and pronouns,” the brief notes.

Certain demographics were more likely to have a parent in the military. LGBTQ+ youth living in the South reported the highest rates of having a parent currently in the military compared to those living in other regions of the U.S. Those who identified as Native/Indigenous, Black, or multiracial reported higher rates of having a parent currently in the military compared to their peers as well.

There is a vast diversity of experiences among military families, the brief points out. The data do not indicate if a military parent is active-duty or a reservist, if the parent has been deployed overseas, or if the family lives on a military base. “Different military family experiences … may be associated with different levels of mental health risk,” the document states. “Future research should examine these differences in experience across military families.”

“Despite these limitations, these findings have important implications for military families and those who serve them,” it continues. “Mental health providers working with military families must be LGBTQ-affirming and culturally competent. … 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 and create welcoming and affirming spaces for families with LGBTQ members.”

“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 in a statement upon the brief’s release. “Future research is needed to better consider the diversity of experiences that LGBTQ youth with military parents represent — such as whether they have one or multiple military parents, if their families live on a base, and whether or not their parents have deployed. However, these data indicate 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.”