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A new study finds that it doesn’t always “get better” for LGBT youth despite the success of a campaign launched by Dan Savage in 2010.

Discrimination, harassment and assault of LGBT youths remain a problem for about a third of adolescents, the study found. And it’s often severe, ongoing and leads to lasting mental health problems such as major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Northwestern News Centre reports.

The study by researchers at Northwestern University, published in The American Journal of Public Health, observed 248 Chicago teens who identified as LGBT or reported being attracted to people of the same gender. At the beginning of the study, they made note of the teens’ mental health and the degree to which they were being bullied. They then followed up with the youths, conducting seven additional interviews over the next four years.

“We tend to think that society is evolving but we can’t just accept this narrative that ‘it gets better’ and think it gets better for everyone,” said Brian Mustanski, an associate professor in medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and director of the new Northwestern Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing.

The study is innovative because it looked at not only the number of victimisations teens were experiencing but how severe they were and how they changed over time. Mustanski was struck by just how severe the treatment was.

“With bullying, I think people often assume ‘that’s just kids teasing kids,’ and that’s not true,” Mustanski said. “If these incidents, which might include physical and sexual assaults, weren’t happening in schools, people would be calling the police. These are criminal offences.”

Overall, the researchers found that the majority of bullied LGBT youths are mentally stable and “resilient.” But given that depression is a major predictor of suicide attempts, Mustanski and his team hope their study and future research will spur schools and policy makers to do more to protect LGBT youths, as well as help them cope.

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