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There aren’t enough studies on substance use, mental health conditions, and the victimization of LGBTQ+ youth to fully support them, according to a new study out of the University of Pittsburgh.

Researchers analyzed thousands of publications over a 20-year period and were only able to identify nine that focused on outcomes for LGBTQ+ youth.

Scientists say a lack of study in this area limits the validity of the existing papers.

“While this knowledge gap is distressing, I think we can look at it as an opportunity,” lead author Robert W.S. Coulter, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, said in a statement.

“Promising programs are being created by community-based organizations that are ripe for rigorous evaluation by scientists to determine if they are successfully improving health among LGBTQ youth and, if so, whether they can be replicated in other communities.”

When compared to heterosexual, cisgender peers, LGBTQ youth are up to 623 per cent more likely to use substances in their lifetimes, up to 317 per cent more likely to suffer from mental health conditions, and are up to 280 per cent more likely to be a victim of bullying or abuse.

“One-on-one therapy can be an effective intervention, but it is inherently focused on treating the victim, rather than preventing the larger societal problems, such as discrimination, that can lead to substance abuse, bullying, and mental health issues,” Coulter said.

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“Our study identified a need for evaluation of larger interventions targeting an entire population — such as at schools — to bring about cultural changes promoting acceptance and celebration of differences. Such programs may prevent problems from ever arising and make youth more resilient from a health perspective in the future.”


Coulter says that there may be existing literature on health disparities and LGBTQ youth that his team didn’t come across.

The lack of existing research may also be because researchers only looked at papers that focused on children under 18, which is under the age of consent.

“But adolescent brains are at a crucial developmental stage,” Coulter said. “Interventions that successfully prevent undue stress, increase support and build resilience, can pay dividends down the line.”

The paper was published this month in AAP News.