As we celebrate LGBT History Month in October, it’s important to remember young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender face unique challenges that can have a significant impact on their mental health.
The adolescent and teen years are particularly tough for LGBT youth. They are coming to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many face bullying in school or rejection at home. They are at increased risk of abuse and homelessness.
So, it’s hardly surprising that anxiety and depression affect a significant number of young people in the LGBT community. In its 2020 national survey, The Trevor Project — a national organization that fights to prevent suicide in LGBTQ youth, provides critical insights about LGBT mental health.
The June 2020 study found:
- 40% of LGBTQ respondents seriously considered attempting suicide in the past twelve months.
- 68% of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in the past two weeks, including more than 3 in 4 transgender and nonbinary youth.
According to the Trevor Project, the current data is just beginning to tell the story about the impact of COVID-19 and the upheavals of 2020 on LGBTQ youth, many of whom have not had access to their usual support systems during the pandemic and may be isolated in unaccepting home environments.
While these numbers are concerning, the Trevor Project survey also found that when LGBTQ youth have access to at least one person who is supportive the percentages go way down. For example, among those who reported high levels of support from family, or friends, 13 percent reported attempting suicide in the past year, compared to 22 percent of those with lower levels of support.
SUPPORTING YOUR LOVED ONE
The takeaway is that providing LGBTQ youth with safe environments where they can feel empowered, supported and affirmed, makes a huge difference in their mental health and even saves lives. So, what can you do to support an LGBTQ child or loved one? PFLAG, the nation’s largest LGBTQ family and ally organization offers some helpful recommendations:
Lead with love. Even if as a parent or loved one, you are struggling with long-held beliefs about sexual orientation or gender identity, letting a young person know that you love them, is critical for their mental wellbeing. A hug can speak volumes.
Listen with intention. Give your child or loved one ample opportunity to open up and share their thoughts and feelings. You can gently prod them with open-ended questions, such as, “How did things go at school/work” today, to get a dialogue started.
Show subtle support. Your support doesn’t always have to be overt. Speaking positively about an LGBTQ person you know or a television program with an LGBTQ storyline can be affirming.
Learn the terms. Knowing the appropriate language and terms to use, shows that you care enough to make an effort.
Encourage connections. Keeping up with friends and allies is especially important at this time when school is online for most kids. Support your child getting together with friends and loved ones online (within reason).
Research resources. There are many resources that can provide invaluable support. For example:
TrevorSpace is a social networking site through which LGBTQ youth can find community and connect safely.
It Gets Better is a support community that has a huge database of resources for LGBTQ youth in crisis.
Stopbullying.gov provides information about creating safe spaces for LGBTQ youth.
Reach out. If you notice that your child is struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity, help them get help.
In the Trevor Project survey, respondents reported that they want counseling (46 percent), but lack access to care. The main barriers, according to the respondents are fear of having to get parental permission and affordability.
Encourage your child to get counseling and help them find a qualified mental health professional to work with – someone they can trust and feel comfortable sharing private information with. If you are concerned about affordability, there are many mental health professionals who will work within all kinds of budgets.
I am committed to accessibility in my practice and am happy to tailor sessions to individual and family needs through both teletherapy and in-person sessions. Contact me to talk about options.