In partnership with Vicky Rideout and I, Common Sense Media created fact sheets about multiple groups included in our national study (Latinx, Black, female, LGBTQ+ youth, to name a few) and I thought I’d share each slice of data in a series of posts.
The complete survey findings, methodology, quotes from participants, fact sheets, and questionnaire are available here.
Here’s the 10-second summary:
LGBTQ+ teens and young adults are among the most likely to report symptoms of moderate to severe depression: 65%, compared with 31% of non-LGBTQ+ youth. But there are hopeful findings, too. LGBTQ+ youth are highly likely to grab every chance they get for online connection and information.
Here are the details:
16% of respondents in the survey identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, or as transgender or nonbinary. We refer to these respondents as LGBTQ+.
Many U.S. LGBTQ+ youth (age 14–22) face serious health concerns, especially compared to non-LGBTQ+ youth:
- 65% of LGBTQ+ youth report symptoms of moderate to severe depression, twice the percentage of non-LGBTQ+ youth (31%).
- 19% of LGBTQ+ youth are at risk of problematic substance use, compared with 8% of non-LGBTQ+ youth.
98% of LGBTQ+ youth have used digital tools for health purposes, such as seeking health information online, using a health-related app, connecting to a provider, or finding others online with similar health concerns.
- 92% of LGBTQ+ youth have looked for health information online; the top topics are COVID-19 and anxiety.
- LGBTQ+ youth searched online more than non-LGBTQ+ youth for information on anxiety, depression, and/or stress (77% vs. 51%), sleep disorders (43% vs. 21%), and eating disorders (34% vs. 14%).
- 48% of LGTBQ+ youth have used a mental health app (such as for depression, meditation/mindfulness, mood tracking, stress reduction, and alcohol or drug abuse) compared with 28% of non-LGBTQ+ youth.
- 54% of LGBTQ+ youth have looked for others online with similar health concerns, compared with 38% of non-LGBTQ+ youth.
More than half of LGBTQ+ youth (58%) have used telehealth services to connect with providers online, significantly more than non-LGBTQ+ youth (45%).
- 78% of LGBTQ+ youth who have connected with a provider online say they found it “very” (27%) or “somewhat” (51%) helpful. However, the percentage of LGBTQ+ youth who say it’s “very” helpful is significantly lower than that of non-LGBTQ+ youth (27% vs. 41%).
- 55% of LGBTQ+ youth who have not yet connected with a provider online are “very” (12%) or “somewhat” (43%) interested in doing so.
The majority of LGBTQ+ youth encounter homophobic content on social media.
- 74% of LGBTQ+ youth “often” (44%) or “sometimes” (30%) encounter homophobic content on social media.
- More LGBTQ+ youth see homophobic content “often” than do non-LGBTQ+ youth (44% vs. 18%).
However, many LGBTQ+ youth have positive opinions about social media, especially during the era of COVID-19:
- During the coronavirus pandemic, the majority of LGBTQ+ youth say social media has been “very” or “somewhat” important for staying connected to friends and family (81%), keeping informed about current events (78%), and helping learn how to protect themselves and others from the virus (77%).
- LGBTQ+ youth are more likely than non-LGBTQ+ youth to say social media is “very” important to express themselves creatively (36% vs. 23%), get inspiration from others (31% vs. 21%), feel less alone (28% vs. 20%), and get support or advice (28% vs. 19%).
- 52% of LGBTQ+ youth say social media helps them feel better when they are depressed, stressed, or anxious (34% say it makes no difference, and 13% say it makes them feel worse). This is a significantly more positive perception than non-LGBTQ+ youth (42% say it makes them feel better). Additionally, the data shows a significant positive shift from 2018, when 36% of LGBTQ+ youth said social media helps them feel better.
Our survey is one window into the lives of teens and young adults. I hope it’s useful for those who seek to inject data and young people’s own voices into the public conversation.
Which data points resonate with you? Which surprise you? Please let me know what you think in the comments.
How we asked about gender and sexual orientation:
What sex were you assigned at birth, on your original birth certificate?
How do you describe your gender?
- Prefer to self-describe [respondents were given space to type an answer in their own words]
- Prefer not to say
Do you identify as transgender?
This next question is about sexual orientation. Which of the following best represents how you think of yourself?
- Lesbian or gay
- Straight, that is, not lesbian or gay
- Something else
- Don’t know
For previous research on LGBT youth and online use, see “Out Online,” published in 2013 by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. In addition, Gallup’s latest measure of the LGBT population in the U.S. matches ours: 15.9% of those born between 1997 and 2002.
For more information on how to conduct survey research that accurately measures gender, please see:
- Center of Excellence for Transgender Health’s recommendations for inclusive data collection.
- Reisner, Sari L et al. “Advancing methods for US transgender health research” Current opinion in endocrinology, diabetes, and obesity vol. 23,2 (2016): 198-207.
- Spiel, Katta; Haimson, Oliver; Lottridge, Danielle. “How to do better with gender on surveys: A guide for HCI researchers” The Digital Library vol. XXVI.4 July-August 2019.
- The GenIUSS Group. (2014). Best Practices for Asking Questions to Identify Transgender and Other Gender Minority Respondents on Population-based Surveys. J.L. Herman (ed.). Los Angeles, CA: the Williams Institute.
- The Canadian Institute of Gender and Health created a series of videos and webinars about sex and gender.
Special thanks to Alanna Peebles, PhD, of Common Sense for preparing these fact sheets:
- COVID-19, depression, and social media use / El coronavirus, la depresión y el uso de redes sociales entre adolescentes y adultos jóvenes (de 14 a 22 años).
- Black youth
- Hispanic/Latinx youth / La salud mental, las prácticas de salud digital y el uso de redes sociales entre adolescentes y adultos jóvenes hispanos / latinos en Estados Unidos (de 14 a 22 años).
- LGBTQ+ youth
- Female youth
- Problematic substance use
Featured image courtesy of Common Sense Media.
Susannah Fox says
This post was originally scheduled for publication on Monday, March 29, but I realized that this is LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week, so moved it up to today.
In the survey, we asked respondents to tell us about times that they had gone online to seek information about emotional well-being or to look for people who share the same health concerns. Here is a sample of answers from LGBTQ+ young people:
“I follow accounts on social media of people who have similar health concerns to be surrounded by support and ideas [for] how to cope.”
“I once went to an online chat room thing for teens with anxiety, but I got nervous and left.”
—14-year-old nonbinary person
“I was depressed and always angry and wanted to hurt and make other people feel the same feelings I did, so they actually knew how it felt. They said they knew how it was to be sad, but I don’t think they know.” (In a later response they shared that they had been able to connect online with a therapist and it helped with their “depression,
stress, and anger.”)
—14-year-old person who self-describes their gender as “I am whatever I want to be”
“I was going through tough times, and I wanted to find ways to help.”
“I am transgender and felt back pain due to chest binding. I was able to find tips to reduce my pain from other trans people through online forums.”
“There are some moments where I may feel feelings of despair, or loneliness, or jealousy. So I read articles written [by] other individuals who feel these same emotions and how to best cope [with] them.”