Embark Behavioral Health
June 1, 2021
Sometimes, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQIA+) youth face a unique set of challenges.
Recent data demonstrate the breadth and depth of the issues these dynamic young people often face.
According to The Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2021, in the past two weeks, 72 percent of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, and 62 percent reported symptoms of major depressive disorder.
And, more than half of LGBTQIA+ youth reported that they had experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in the past year.
This strain takes a toll: 42 percent of LGBTQIA+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.
Start with Recognition
Dr. Mona Treadway, LCSW, is the co-founder and CEO of Embark’s Dragonfly Transitions program in Oregon. Her team specializes in helping students move into healthy, young adult life with independence and autonomy.
Treadway advised starting by openly recognizing a young person’s unique identity, which may shift over time.
“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 are playing with pronouns,” she said. “Maybe one day they’re trying ‘he/her,’ maybe another it’s ‘they/them.’”
Treadway advises that parents practice “openness, acceptance, and the curiosity to understand what their child is experiencing.”
Curiosity and acceptance make a significant difference. For example, in the same report from The Trevor Project, transgender and nonbinary 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.
How to Practice Acceptance
Whether you realize it or not, your LGBTQIA+ teen 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,” says Treadway. So, make sure you’re reinforcing your acceptance of their identity.
For some parents, this could be challenging. Perhaps you are 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, so you may want to find your own support system to explore this and learn (versus leaving all of your questions for your child).
But, demonstrating acceptance does a great deal of good by paving a way towards healing. Here are a few 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.
Finding the Right Support
If your child needs additional support, find a therapist who is LGBTQIA-informed. Unfortunately, not all therapists are, and having a specialty in this area is essential.
Many LGBTQIA+ youth are seeking therapy. In fact, 48 percent of LGBTQIA+ youth reported in the Trevor Project’s study that they wanted counseling from a mental health professional but were unable to receive it in the past year.
Support can also come in the form of finding community. PFLAG is the first and largest organization for LGBTQIA+ people, their parents and families, and allies and has chapters across the country. Your local PFLAG could be a fantastic resource for both your child and yourself throughout this journey.
If your child is experiencing bullying, it’s crucial to intercede and advocate for and with them within the school system and teach them to stand up and say no. Therapy can also be critical in these instances.
The Family Acceptance Project has additional recommendations on how to help your child feel supported:
- Require that other family members respect your LGBTQIA+ child.
- Connect your child with an LGBTQIA+ adult role model to show them options for the future.
- Work to make your congregation supportive of LGBTQIA+ members, or find a supportive faith community that welcomes your family and LGBTQIA+ child.
- Welcome your child’s LGBTQIA+ friends & partner to your home, family events, and activities.
- Believe your child can have a happy future as an LGBTQIA+ 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, even if there are broader issues at play. “If the acceptance piece is really there,” says Treadway, “then you can hone in on anxiety, depression, trauma – the roots of these things.”
Your child’s gender and sexual identity can also be a separate experience from their mental health. Whenever they need, seek additional resources and education to give them a solid base so they know that, no matter what, they’re accepted and cared for.
If you or someone you love is depressed, going through a hard time, needs to talk, or is thinking about suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available via online chat or 1-800-273-8255 anytime.