Access to college mental health services saves LGBTQ+ students’ lives, but barriers persist

Results from a new survey of LGBTQ+ youth affirm the lifesaving implications when colleges provide robust mental health services and a supportive environment. LGBTQ+ students with access to college or university mental health services were 84% less likely to attempt suicide in the past year than those who had no access, according to a brief on college students from the Trevor Project, a non-profit focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ individuals. The brief also reveals that LGBTQ+ college students with access to campus LGBTQ+ student services were 44% less likely to attempt suicide in the past year, compared to LGBTQ+ college students who had no access.

The data was collected through the Trevor Project’s fourth annual National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, which surveyed 33,993 LGBTQ+ youths ages 13 to 24 across the United States recruited through targeted social media ads, according to Inside Higher Ed.

While an overwhelming majority (86%) of students enrolled in college said their institution offers mental health services, they cited barriers to access such as not feeling comfortable going, long waitlists, and privacy concerns, The 74 reports. Similarly, almost nine in 10 LGBTQ+ students reported that their colleges were supportive of LGBTQ+ people, but only 63% said their college offered services such as LGBTQ+ counseling centers or inclusive student groups, according to Higher Ed Dive.

Mental health services lower risk of suicide

The results are a reminder that mental health services and supportive groups save lives, researchers tell Inside Higher Ed. One-third of LGBTQ+ college students reported they seriously considered suicide in the past, and 7% reported a suicide attempt in the past year. Rates of suicidal thoughts were highest among nonbinary students (39%) and students of color (35%).

Access to campus mental health services and LGBTQ centers can significantly improve LGBTQ+ students’ quality of life. Four in 10 LGBTQ+ college students who had no access to LGBTQ+ services reported considering suicide in the past year, compared with less than one-third for those who had access.

Affirming LGBTQ+ students 

Campus climates for LGBTQ+ students have generally improved over the last 15 years, says Shane Mendez Windmeyer, executive director for Campus Pride, a non-profit that works to make colleges safer for LGBTQ+ individuals. “Yet this progress is not consistent across institutions,” she explains.

Overall, LGBTQ+ youth reported experiencing increased harassment, violence, problems finding and getting care, and negative impacts from COVID-19 and anti-transgender and “don’t say gay” legislation, according to The 74. “Reports of harassment and discrimination, especially for transgender students, remain a problem at a time when student learning and persistence are central issues for higher education leaders,” Windmeyer says.

Related: Anti-LGBTQ+ state laws will have an impact on higher ed, experts say >

To show their commitment to LGBTQ+ students’ mental health and wellbeing, the study suggests colleges provide comprehensive physical and mental health resources and inclusive spaces and services for LGBTQ+ students. Advocates also suggest institutions include LGBTQ+-specific resources in student health centers and counseling centers and protect the privacy of LGBTQ+ students seeking support. Hannah Rosen, a research associate with The Trevor Project, tells The 74, “Even simple actions such as including gender-affirming language in materials, or self-educating about different LGBTQ identities and terminology, can make a huge difference in affirming LGBTQ college students.”

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