With LGBTQ youth facing a unique set of challenges, it’s important that you support and accept your child, whether they’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning or queer. To understand the breadth and depth of issues these dynamic young people often face, consider several key statistics from the National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2021 by The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people.
According to this survey of nearly 35,000 LGBTQ youths ages 13-24:
- 72% reported symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder within the past two weeks.
- 62% reported symptoms of major depressive disorder within the past two weeks.
- 42% seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.*
- LGBTQ youth of color reported higher rates of attempting suicide than their white peers in the past year. 12% of white youth attempted suicide compared to 31% of Native/Indigenous youth, 21% of Black youth, 21% of multiracial youth, 18% of Latinx youth, and 12% of Asian/Pacific Islander youth.
- Only 1 in 3 LGBTQ youths found their home to be LGBTQ-affirming.
The survey also reported the COVID-19 pandemic was adding to these young people’s issues:
- More than 80% stated that COVID-19 made their living situation more stressful.
- 70% stated that their mental health was “poor” most of the time or always during COVID-19.
How can you best support and accept your LGBTQ child — and find additional assistance if needed to encourage their mental health? This article offers several tips, including advice for addressing your feelings during this healing journey.
Start With Recognition
Parents should start by openly recognizing their child’s unique gender identity and sexual orientation, which may shift over time, said Mona Treadway, LCSW, Embark young adult division president and co-founder of Embark’s Dragonfly Transitions, a young adult transitional living program in Oregon.
“What we see at Dragonfly is the level of pure acceptance for who they are: how they identify, their pronouns, their sexuality, their fluidity. Some days, maybe they’re playing with pronouns,” Treadway said. “Maybe one day they’re trying ‘he/her,’ maybe another it’s ‘they/them.’”
She advised that parents practice “openness, acceptance, and the curiosity to understand what their child is experiencing.”
Family member curiosity and acceptance make a significant difference in an LGBTQ youth’s well-being, according to The Trevor Project survey:
- Nonbinary and transgender youth who reported having pronouns respected by all of the people they lived with attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected by anyone with whom they lived.
- Nonbinary and transgender youth who were able to change their name and/or gender marker on legal documents, such as driver’s licenses and birth certificates, reported lower rates of attempting suicide.
How To Practice Acceptance
Whether you realize it or not, your LGBTQ teen or young adult is paying attention to your words and actions and reacting to what they think you want.
“It’s really common for adolescents to project what they expect their parents to feel,” Treadway said. So, make sure you’re reinforcing your acceptance of their gender identity and sexual orientation.
Here are three ways to try this at home, according to Treadway:
- Invite your child to share when they’re ready.
- Explain that you’re ready to listen, but you don’t want to bombard them with questions or be overwhelming.
- Show interest by asking if you can attend a pride event or other similar function with your child.
For some parents, this could be challenging. Perhaps you’re grieving the loss of a daughter while also celebrating gaining a son. You may need your own space to process the changes your child is going through when coming out, so consider finding your own support system to explore your feelings and learn versus leaving all of your questions for your child to answer.
Finding the Right Support
If your child is struggling with their mental health and needs additional support, find a therapist who is LGBTQ informed. Not all service providers are, and having a specialty in this area is essential. Psychology Today has an online search tool that you can help you get started.
Therapy can be especially critical if your child is experiencing bullying. According to The Trevor Project Research Brief: Bullying and Suicide Risk among LGBTQ Youth, issued in October 2021:
- 52% of LGBTQ youth who were enrolled in middle or high school reported being bullied in person or electronically in the past year.
- LGBTQ students who reported being bullied in the past year had three times greater odds of attempting suicide in the past year.
The brief noted that schools can become more affirming of their LGBTQ students in a variety of ways, including establishing gender and sexuality alliances/gay-straight alliances (GSAs); creating policies and norms around sharing names and pronouns; including LGBTQ issues in curricula; and providing LGBTQ cultural competence training for teachers and staff.
Talk to your child about the environment at their school and, if needed, contact teachers and/or school administrators so you can work together to address any concerns.
Support can also come in the form of finding community. For example, PFLAG, an organization for LGBTQ people, their parents and families, and allies, has nearly 400 chapters across the country. Your local PFLAG could be a fantastic resource for you and your child.
The Family Acceptance Project has additional recommendations on how to help your child feel supported:
- Require that other family members respect your child.
- Connect your child with an LGBTQ adult role model to show them options for the future.
- Work to make your congregation supportive of LGBTQ members, or find a supportive faith community that welcomes your family and LGBTQ youth.
- Welcome your child’s LGBTQ friends and partner to your home, family events, and activities.
- Believe your child can have a happy future as an LGBTQ adult.
Be a Safe Space That Fosters Healing
Creating and being a safe space for your child can do so much for their mental health, especially if there are mental health issues at play.
“If the acceptance piece is really there,” Treadway said, “then you can hone in on anxiety, depression, and trauma.”
Your child’s gender identity and sexual orientation can also be a separate experience from their emotional well-being. Whenever they need, seek additional resources and education to give them a solid base so they know that, no matter what, their family members love, accept, and care for them.
*This article is for informational purposes only and not to be considered medical advice. If your child is having a mental health emergency, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for immediate support by calling, texting, or chatting 988. You can also text HOME to 741741 -the Crisis Text Line- from anywhere in the country to talk with a trained crisis counselor.