Helping to Promote Better Mental Health Care for LGBTQ+ Teens
May 2022 is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is a great time to make yourself aware of the mental health issues facing LGBTQ+ teens. These teens have more mental health issues than other teens, often due to issues with acceptance in society.
If you have an LGBTQ+ teen yourself, it is especially important to learn about these issues. It can also be helpful so that you can talk to your teen about their friends in the LGBTQ+ community, if they are not themselves.
For more help on how you can be supportive when your child comes out, you can read How can I help when my child "comes out?"
As the mom of a bisexual child, these issues are very close to my heart. If you have a child in the LGBTQ+ community, I imagine that you feel that way too. As parents, the more we do to instill resilience in our kids, the better they will fare over time.
Mental Health Statistics
Mental Health Issues can be more common in LGBTQ+ teens due to bullying and other social acceptance issues. Since these issues have been in the news a lot with the "Don't Say Gay" bill in Florida, social issues could be effecting your teen due to these issues being in the media.
Teenage years are a time when kids are first starting to find their individual identities, and social acceptance is very important. When they don't feel accepted, it can have many negative consequences.
According to the CDC,
data from the 2015 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), of surveyed LGB students:
10% were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property
34% were bullied on school property
28% were bullied electronically
23% of LGB students who had dated or went out with someone during the 12 months before the survey had experienced sexual dating violence in the prior year
18% of LGB students had experienced physical dating violence
18% of LGB students had been forced to have sexual intercourse at some point in their lives.
Being bullied in school and other threats of violence against LGBTQ+ teens can negatively effect their mental health, and lead to drastic consequences. Many have anxiety, depression, or even contemplate suicide.
According to Medical News Today, "The Trevor Project’s 2019 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 39% of LGBTQ youth seriously contemplated suicide in the prior year, with 71% of LGBTQ youth feeling sad or hopeless."
This is a huge increase in suicide ideation above what other teens experience.
Situations Where Teens are at Risk
There are many times where teens may be at risk for suffering negative mental health consequences from their LGBTQ+ identities.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, some situations that may be risk factors for mental health issues include,
Inadequate mental health care
If children don't feel accepted for their identities when they come out, it can lead to a host of problems later on. This makes it especially important that we, as parents, be as accepting as possible. Our acceptance can act as a buffer against perhaps hostile reactions of others.
Factors such as rejection from family can lead to homelessness, as well as many of these other issues. In families where a child's identity isn't accepted, their mental health issues may end up being worse as a result as well.
Although social acceptance itself isn't something that we can fix all on our own, we can help our children feel more accepted. We can educate ourselves on issues facing the LGBTQ+ community and speak up about them. If our children see us speaking up on their behalf, it can help them to feel accepted.
Also, if our kids are being bullied in school, it is important to do something about it. We can talk to the school, and seek interventions.
According to Berkley, "Schools are incentivized to balance their legal liability with their concern for their students. If possible, take a collaborative, problem-solving approach that can become a win-win. Appeal to the school’s stated values, or their aspirational charters on psychological well-being, or the opportunity to improve the school climate for everyone."
Taking a collaborative approach is a good first step, as the school may not be aware that bullying is taking place. Letting them know and giving them a chance to fix things is a good place to start. If you know the other child's parents, you may consider speaking to them as well.
If that doesn't work, and the bullying continues, you may consider moving your child to another school, or enrolling them in online classes instead.
According to Berkley, "If the school does not take action, turn up the volume. Remind them that federal legislation gives students the legal right to learn in a safe environment and offers special protections for bullying based on race, sex, or disability. Point to your state’s legislation. If physical threats are involved, law enforcement may be of help, informally or formally."
Bullying can have many long-term consequences on your child's self-esteem, and intervening as soon as possible will help to mitigate these effects.
Mental Health Treatment
Getting mental health treatment for your teen if they are having some mental health issues is important to help them recover as quickly as possible.
When looking for a mental health provider, you will want to look for one that is LGBTQ+ friendly. If a child is having issues with acceptance already, having a therapist who is sensitive to their issues is crucial.
According to NAMI some important considerations for finding the right mental health provider will include,
If you want a provider who shares specific parts of their identity with you, you may be able to find out if your provider is LGBTQI by reading their profiles or websites.
It may be easier to find a provider that has a baseline competency in LGBTQI issues, rather than one who specializes in LGBTQI care. If your mental health conditions are not rooted in sexual orientation and/or gender identity, it may not be necessary for the provider to be specialized in LGBTQI issues.
If you are transgender and are seeking a mental health professional to write a letter of support for gender affirming medical care or for legal documentation change, you should seek a provider who understands the insurance or legal requirements of support letters.
Since a trusting relationship is important for therapy to be effective, keep in mind that the first therapist you try may not be a good fit. That doesn't mean that therapy has failed, just that your child may need a different therapist who can build a better rapport with them.
Let your child know this up front too, so that they won't feel like a failure if their first therapist doesn't work out. I did this with my daughter when she got into therapy for her anxiety, and she went to several providers before finding one that clicked. She wasn't afraid to ask for a different therapist when she felt like one wasn't working out.
If your teen, or someone you know may be considering suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or in some areas by texting 988.
National Alliance on Mental Illness
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