BY Hadley Stewart | @wordsbyhadley


The thought of going off to university is both exciting and nerve-wracking. 

I moved from Manchester to London, and I can remember feeling that everybody else seemed way more excited than I at the prospect of starting life in a new city. Of course, I was quickly reminded that everybody is in the same boat, and that I should just enjoy the moment. This year, thousands of young people from across the UK will embark on a new chapter of their lives – LGBTQ+ young people being no exception. But with change, comes challenge. And for LGBTQ+ young people, the transition between home life and university life can strain their mental health.

Being ‘other’

LGBTQ+ young people experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, than their peers. Past experiences of playground bullying, being made to feel ‘othered’ by society, and a lack of positive role models, are all factors that are often cited when looking at the mental and emotional wellbeing of our community. Society is moving quickly when it comes to views towards LGBTQ+ people, yet homophobia, biphobia and transphobia remain unforgivingly commonplace in many communities across the country.

Growing up can be a bit of a minefield: pressure to do well at exams, pressure from other people at school to act a certain way, and pressure from images online to look like an Instagram model. Add being queer into the mix, and LGBTQ+ young people have even more to contend with. I faced homophobic bullying for most of my schooling, which impacted on the way I felt about myself and society around me. But the idea that homophobia would follow me to the gates of my university didn’t cross my mind until a friend asked, “What if your flatmates are homophobic?”

Living conditions

University students who stay in halls of residence during their first year seldom have the choice of who they live with, so it was a possibility that my flatmates could be homophobic. Thankfully, they weren’t. But the question sparked another memory from school, which remains with me today. During a school assembly, our deputy head teacher told us about Tyler Clementi, as an example of how bullying can have serious consequences.

Tyler went off to study in New York, having come out as gay to his parents days before leaving home. He was paired up to share a room with a fellow student, who happened to be homophobic. His roommate subjected him to a torrent of homophobic abuse, until Tyler, aged 18, took his own life just weeks after starting at university. He was not the only teenager in the US that summer who took their own life. Tyler’s story is a reminder of the negative consequences discrimination and bullying have on young people, as well as the need for more conversations about mental health to be had with young people, particularly those who are moving away from home.

University support

Some universities are already taking positive steps to support students who might require provisions for their mental and emotional wellbeing. LGBTQ+ student officers and on-site counsellors are some examples of how LGBTQ+ young people can access help. That being said, broader issues around funding of NHS mental health services also play a part in the experiences of LGBTQ+ young people, requiring more long-term input.

The transition between school and university is also often the time young people move from children’s to adult mental health services.

What’s more, there are often longer waiting lists for adult mental health services. This means that some young people are faced with the stressful prospect of moving into a new environment, coupled with longer waits to access mental health services.

Starting university is a pivotal moment in a young person’s life, and it can be an extremely positive environment, affording the freedom to discover oneself. However, it is also important to acknowledge that LGBTQ+ young people might face unique challenges as they navigate this chapter in their lives, especially for those who experience poor mental health.

Support is already available at universities, but young people also need to feel empowered to access these services, and to recognise that they may need help. The education system and wider government must advocate for LGBTQ+ young people, to ensure that all young people going to university this autumn have a positive experience.


For more information, visit www.outlife.org.uk/anxiety

Visit www.anxietyuk.org.uk to find out more about coping with anxiety 

If you need to talk to someone, call LGBT Switchboard on 0300 330 0630


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