Almost 2 million young Americans have a parent in the military. New research at The Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to helping young gay people, reports that, while all military kids psychologically suffer at a higher rate than their peers, gay military kids face even greater challenges.
Youth with a parent or guardian in the military have unique stressors due to their family’s connection to military service. The psychological turmoil is reportedly due to “frequent moves, separations for deployments or training, and fear of harm of the military member.” As a result, “youth with military parents are more likely to report depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation than their peers without military parents.
“Youth who report that a parent or sibling had deployed also reported higher odds of experiencing sadness, hopelessness, depressive symptoms, and suicidal ideation compared to youth who reported no family deployments.”
However, existing as a gay youth in a military family is statistically even more difficult. Their unique challenges include “having to come out repeatedly with each frequent move,” and finding gay-accepting communities in each new place. Gay military kids “are also more likely to report substance use than heterosexual youth with military parents.”
While being gay and from a military family is already a unique experience, there are other trends among the studied youth–including where they’re from and their race–that contribute to their feelings of otherness.
Gay youth from the South report the highest rates of having a parent currently in the military compared to other parts of the US.
Young gay people who are Native/Indigenous, Black or multiracial reported the highest rates of having a parent in the military.
Among gay minors from military families, there aren’t only higher odds (17 percent higher) of recent anxiety symptoms: there are greater (14 percent greater) odds of seriously considering suicide and much higher odds (40 percent higher) of actually attempting suicide in the past year.
Predictably, gay military kids’ mental well-being increases with family support. Having high levels of family support almost halved the odds of recent anxiety symptoms, and did halve recent depression symptoms and suicide ideation.
The Trevor Project concluded that the study reveals ongoing, slightly improving, patterns in the relationship between gay people and the military:
“While 86% of [LGBT] service members report that their leadership is willing to acknowledge their spouse or partner, 62% also report that military family support resources did not meet the needs of LGBT families (Sullivan et al., 2021). The military itself, and organizations dedicated to supporting the mental health of service members and their families – especially in the area of suicide prevention – should actively take into account the needs of [LGBT] people and create welcoming and affirming spaces for families with [LGBT] members.”
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