Does it get better?
Here at IMPACT, we’re interested in how the health and wellbeing of LGBT adolescents changes over time. Recently this topic has garnered a lot of media attention with the popular “It Gets Better Project”. Unfortunately though, there haven’t been many studies that have examined LGBT youth as they grow up. Without these studies, it’s impossible to know if the health and wellbeing of youth really does get better.
In our study, Project Q2, which is the longest running longitudinal study of LGBT youth, we are able to look at questions like this. Below, we present some data from Q2. This data summarizes the depression and victimization experiences of 247 LGBT adolescents and young adults aged 16-20 years old who participated in our research for over 2.5 years.
The participants in our study reported less and less victimization experiences, as they got older (see the blue line in the table below). It was common for 16-year-olds to report being threatened verbally, physically, or chased because of their sexual orientation. As youth grew older however, this happened much less often. Although it is terrible that LGBT adolescents experience so much victimization, it is good news that over time victimization does decrease. This finding actually matches other research that reports that bullying and victimization tends to drop, as adolescents become adults. One reason for this may be because as our participants grew older, they were able to choose to spend their time in more supportive environments and avoid environments where victimization might have occurred.
Results differed for depression though. The average participant in our study reported mild depressive symptoms at age 16 which remained steady through adulthood (see the green dashed line in the table above). This finding is concerning because it appears that some LGBT young adults may not be getting better. There are a lot of reasons why this may be occurring. Maybe the victimization experiences from the past have an on-going and long-lasting effect? Maybe these youth aren’t receiving the support that they need? These and other questions are examined more closely in a paper currently under review for publication (Birkett, Newcomb, Mustanski, Under Review). We will post a link to the full paper when it is available. In the meantime however, we hope this shows how research can start to answer the questions that have real impact in the lives of LGBT youth.