A new study finds that stress over politics is killing queer teenagers

A recent study revealed that Gen Z are the most stressed out generation over politics. And for LGBTQ youth, the effects are especially devastating.

by Roisin Lanigan
21 November 2019, 5:45pm

Photography Ellie Smith

With impeachment hearings ongoing, constant elections, Brexit looming in the distance, and our leaders collectively falling short of the urgency needed to solve a global climate emergency, it’s probably natural that we’re all more stressed and worried about our politics than ever before. Now, a recent survey has revealed that it is young people who are bearing the brunt of that political negativity and stress, and that it’s severely affecting our mental health and wellbeing.

The research, newly published by the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS ONE, polled Gen Z applicants and reported that 40% said they felt stressed out as a result of politics. And 20% of respondents took things even further, reporting that politics had impacted their mental and physical health to such an extant that it had resulted in lack of sleep, depression and fatigue. The group most severely affected were young left-wing people.

Entitled Friends, relatives, sanity, and health: The costs of politics, the study polled 800 people using an online survey, and concluded that the Trump administration in particular had made our lives and our health more turbulent. About a fifth of those surveyed said politics had damaged their friendships. 16% said it negatively impacted their home lives too. Clearly, whether it’s on our Twitter timelines or around our dinner tables, political discourse is dividing us more than ever.

These depressing findings come at the same time as the publication of The Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, which makes for equally alarming reading. In undertaking the largest survey of LGBTQ youth mental health ever recorded, The Trevor Project spoke to over 34,000 young queer people (aged between 13 and 24) across the USA. They found a mental health epidemic among young LGBTQ people, with politics playing a key role.

When it came to those that identified as suicidal in the survey, 76% reported that politics had negatively impacted their sense of self and mental health, while only 47% had access to counselling. Almost three quarters reported experiencing discrimination in relation to their sexuality. For young trans people, the picture is even bleaker: The Trevor Project found that around 78% of trans and non-binary young people have experienced discrimination over their gender identity, with 30% reporting a history of suicide attempts. Over half (54%) said they’d considered suicide in the past year.

Speaking to Teen Vogue, Kevin Smith, one of the PLOS ONE study’s authors, said the impact of these stressors shouldn’t be taken lightly. “If the numbers of our study are even halfway in the ballpark of how people are actually perceiving politics, then tens and tens of millions of Americans feel that politics are exacting a significant toll on their social, emotional, psychological, and even physical health,” he explained. Certainly, in an era where boomer commentators and Twitter eggs love to accuse millennials and Gen Z of being “snowflakes” who take offence too easily, the findings of these surveys are a grim confirmation of the actual real-life repercussions of our political climate and increasingly aggressive, divided political landscape. They’re also a reminder that there are real people behind the headlines and the political fallout.

mental health
Gen Z