The LGBT Health & Development Program

Research Blog – Study Shows It Gets Better for Many LGBTQ Youth

Posted on June 12th, 2015 by Michelle in Featured, Research Blog. No Comments

person holding a sign that says: I've been a bully victim. I thought about suicide...It does get better."

Photo credit: MistressoftheRoses, “Bullying… it gets better,” May 2013

“It gets better” is now a familiar phrase in American popular culture, thanks to a YouTube campaign started by columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller. Over the past five years, the campaign has generated around 60,000 videos assuring LGBTQ youth who experience bullying that things will get better [1].

As hopeful as this campaign message sounds, there has been very little research on whether things actually do get better for LGBT youth. A new paper in the Journal of Adolescent Health examines the “it gets better” claim [2]. Survey responses from 231 LGBTQ adolescents aged 16-20 who were followed over 3.5 years. The study looked at patterns of psychological distress and victimization (like insults, threats, physical attacks, and property damage) across time. We weren’t only interested in whether or not things got better in general, but also in what predicts these changes and for whom.

Overall, study findings supported the hopeful message of the “It Gets Better” campaign. Both experiences of victimization and psychological distress decreased for LGBTQ youth over adolescence and into young adulthood. So the good news is that things do tend to get better for LGBTQ teens!

However, the study didn’t stop there. We also wanted to better understand the causes of psychological distress for LGBTQ teens. Our study found that experiencing victimization for being LGBTQ was an important predictor. Greater victimization earlier on led to greater psychological distress later in adolescence. In fact, victimization fully mediated the relationship between age and psychological distress. That means that this drop in psychological distress over time isn’t because teens are ‘growing out of it,’ but rather is likely due to having fewer experiences of victimization.

So even more important than your age is whether or not you are experiencing LGBTQ bullying or victimization. And not all LGBTQ teens are equally likely to experience that victimization. The researchers found that male, transgender, and African-American adolescents were more likely to experience higher victimization, which then put them at-risk for greater levels of psychological distress. This shows that even though it gets better for LGBTQ youth in general, it doesn’t necessarily get better for everyone.

Study findings contribute to the dialogue about the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ youth. Although we show that things do tend to get better for these teens, whether or not teens experience distress at all is related to instances of victimization. School-based interventions to reduce bullying may be one important way to decrease the frequency of LGBTQ victimization. And increasing awareness that some LGBTQ teens may be more likely to experience victimization can also help develop interventions that specifically target these youth.

Overall, study findings show that although it does get better for LGBTQ youth over time, it is important to take action to help it get better sooner and for all LGBTQ teens.

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[1] Ryan, B. (2015, February 13). It really might ‘get better’ for LGBT teens. The Atlantic. Retrieved from:

[2] Birkett, M., Newcomb, M. E., & Mustanski, B. (2015). Does it get better? A longitudinal analysis of psychological distress and victimization in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 56, 280-285. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.10.275

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