The Health Department today released an Epi Data Brief which found that New York City public high school students who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or questioning (LGBTQ) are at a higher risk of experiencing stress, bullying, depressive symptoms, and living away from guardians when compared to youth who self-identified as non-LGBTQ. The statistics come from the 2015 NYC Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), a biennial, self-administered, anonymous survey conducted among New York City public high schools students. This year, for the first time transgender identity was added to the survey; in previous years, students could self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or if they were not sure of their sexual orientation.
In 2015, 24 percent of LGBTQ youth reported being bullied on school property, compared with 13 percent of students who did not identify as LGBTQ. Almost 20 percent of LGBTQ youth attempted suicide in the past year, compared with 6 percent of non-LGBTQ youth. And half of LGBTQ students reported depressive symptoms, such as sadness or hopelessness, for two weeks or more that interfered with their usual activities compared with a quarter of non-LGBTQ students. The Epi Data Brief can be found here. Because previous Youth Risk Behavior Surveys do not include students who self-identify as transgender or questioning, a direct data comparison cannot be made to past years, however, data show that risks for LGBTQ persist. For example, in 2013, 21.5 percent of respondents who self-identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual reported attempting suicide at least once in the past 12 months; 19.2 percent reported being bullied on school property in the past 12 months; and 42.9 percent reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in a row.
The City has made mental health awareness a top priority with ThriveNYC, a 54-initiative mental health roadmap led by First Lady Chirlane McCray. Yesterday, First Lady McCray expanded on those programs with the launch of the NYC Unity Project – an unprecedented effort to unite 16 City agencies and make New York City the most welcoming and affirming city in the world for LGBTQ youth. This new initiative includes an initial investment of $4.8 million over Fiscal Year 2018 and Fiscal Year 2019 for new programs and supports, such as a second 24-hour drop-in center, new trainings for Health + Hospitals physicians, and launching a new public awareness campaign so youth and parents know where to turn when they need services and support.
“For any young person experiencing bullying or depression, I hope that these words resonate with you: you are loved and you deserve to be accepted for exactly who you are,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray, who leads the NYC Unity Project. “It was New York City’s LGBTQ community that gave me a sense of belonging when I first moved here in 1977. And that is why I am proud to partner with leaders from across the City, to work even harder to ensure young people today are safe, supported and healthy – no matter your sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expressions.”
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“The unfair treatment experienced by the LGBTQ community, especially young people, cannot be ignored or left unaddressed. This is why the City is investing in considerable mental health resources through ThriveNYC and the NYC Unity Project,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “Stress, bullying and depression are damaging the overall health, and hindering the future, of thousands of teenagers across the city. These data highlight the importance of a comprehensive plan to address issues affecting the mental health of our LGBTQ youth. I am proud to support First Lady McCray’s new NYC Unity Project, which brings new focus to this problem and precisely aims at enhancing and coordinating services for the LGBTQ youth community.”
Epi Data Brief findings from the 2015 NYC Youth Risk Behavior Survey:
- Compared with non-LGBTQ youth, more LGBTQ youth lived away from parents or guardians because they had been kicked out, run away or been abandoned (7 percent versus 11 percent, respectively).
- Approximately three in 10 (31 percent) LGBTQ youth, compared with approximately one in 10 (11 percent) non-LGBTQ youth, ever seriously considered attempting suicide.
- Five percent of LGBTQ youth attempted suicide four or more times, whereas less than 1 percent of non-LGBTQ youth attempted suicide four or more times.
- In terms of supportive services, LGBTQ youth were more likely than non-LGBTQ youth to receive help from a counselor, social worker or therapist for an emotional or personal issue (28 percent versus 16 percent, respectively).
- Among youth attending New York City schools with a school-based health center, both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ youth reported similar usage of school clinic services (44 percent versus 45 percent, respectively).
- Participants in the LGBTQ youth focus groups sought and located several sources of support. Some youth identified allies in their schools and found encouragement in literature, while others pursued opportunities for LGBTQ youth provided by the City’s child welfare system.
“Every young person deserves the right to thrive regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or presentation,” said Dr. Gary Belkin, Executive Deputy Commissioner for the Division of Mental Hygiene. “Today’s data shows just how far we have to go in terms of reducing inequities for LGBTQ youth. ThriveNYC has begun this work and the Unity Project will go a long way in coordinating city responses and ensuring everyone can feel accepted in New York.”
“LGBTQ youth are one of the most vulnerable populations of our City and it is our duty to protect them,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Health Committee. “LGBTQ people, especially students, often face tremendous obstacles, both publicly and privately. We must continue to work to ensure they are given the same chance to succeed as everyone else. Thank you to Commissioner Bassett for highlighting the incredible need of this community.”
“According to the Department of Health’s surveys, LGBTQ Youth are at higher risk to suffer depression, bullying and be separated from their family,” said Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, Chair, LGBT Caucus. “While the LGBTQ community has made great strides in advancing our rights, not much unfortunately has changed for our LGBTQ Youth. I am hopeful the City of New York will help balance those odds through the implementation of the NYC Unity Project that will provide services to expressly address the needs of LGBTQ Youth.”
“In order to provide the best range of mental health service, we need to figure out which students are most at risk and the services they need,” said Council Member Andrew Cohen. “New York City has always been inclusive, and we need to make sure we’re extending that inclusivity to LGBTQ youth. The data is alarming, and shows just how disproportionately likely LGBTQ students are to suffer abuse from their peers. We must take action – and I’m proud to see ThriveNYC doing just that.”
“As a society, we underestimate the depth of the struggle within the LGBTQ community, particularly with regard to mental health risks,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres. “It is imperative that we remain focused on and dedicated to mitigating these risks and providing the strongest support systems for LGBTQ youth. This must include a comprehensive expansion of services in every borough so that every young person struggling with their mental health has somewhere to turn within their community.”
“The results of this study are incredibly disheartening and put the struggles of our LGBTQ youth into stark relief,” said Council Member James Vacca. “I’m very happy to see the NYC Unity Project get underway and begin to meaningfully address the myriad issues facing these youth.”
In addition to the NYC Unity Project, the City has expanded its range of mental health services for high school students and LGBTQ youth:
- Youth Mental Health First Aid As part of ThriveNYC, Mental Health First Aid trains New Yorkers to identify and respond to signs of mental health and substance use challenges. The Youth Mental Health First Aid program focuses on ages 12-18 and addresses the specific needs of transition age youth (ages 18-25). The training educates adults on how to recognize signs and symptoms of mental health disorders in adolescents and highlights the societal factors that impact a young LGBTQ person, such as discrimination, fear and harassment. In addition, the Department of Education is offering this training to schools throughout the course of the school year. To register for a free Youth Mental Health First Aid training class visit: nyc.gov/mhfa
- Kognito’s At-Risk and School Mental Health Program Faculty in public schools have access to Kognito’s At-Risk training, an evidence-based training that educates teachers and other staff members on how to recognize early signs and symptoms of psychological distress in students and connect them to resources within a school setting. Through the Office of School Health, the School Mental Health Program establishes school-based mental health clinics with staff who have been trained to support LGBTQ youth.
- NYC Well In 2016, First Lady Chirlane McCray and Health Commissioner Bassett announced NYC Well, a one-click, one-call connection to counseling, crisis intervention, peer support, and referrals to ongoing treatment services. Staff are trained in issues impacting LGBTQ youth and knowledgeable in LGBTQ resources. NYC Well, a cornerstone of ThriveNYC, is available 24/7, 365 days a year through phone, text, and chat. If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-888-NYC-WELL.
Suicide is preventable and supportive adults play critical roles in the lives of young people at risk for suicide. Learn the risk factors and warning signs of suicide, along with the specific protective factors that keep young LGBTQ people safe, by visiting: http://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/health/health-topics/lgbtq-youth-suicide.page
If someone is in imminent danger, call 911. The Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth, also operates a 24/7/365 lifeline and can be reached by calling 1-866-488-7386.
For more information on ThriveNYC, visit nyc.gov/thrivenyc.
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