We all want to be loved, accepted and supported by our families and communities. But sadly for many LGBTQIA+ youth, that is not their reality. KVC Hospitals President, Bobby Eklofe, explains why in a recent interview. “A lot of families still reject their youth based on their sexual orientation and gender identity,” Eklofe said. And, in the larger society, LGBTQIA+ youth are more likely to face mistreatment and discrimination.
For a child or teen, rejection from loved ones is traumatic and can negatively impact their brain development, mental health and long-term well–being. “This rejection can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness and damage their sense of self-worth,” Eklofe explains.
Youth can easily become overwhelmed by these emotions. They feel like they are drowning in them – like strong waves are crashing over their body and they can’t swim out. Eventually, they might stop trying to swim against the waves, which can lead to unsafe coping behaviors and tragic outcomes like self-harming or suicide attempts. When they feel like they are drowning, it can be impossible to see what’s over the water and the rejection, fear and loneliness may seem too hard to overcome.
According to the recently released National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health 2021, from The Trevor Project, 42% of LGBTQ youth considered suicide in the last year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.
Racism Feels Like a Double Whammy
LGBTQ youth of color may feel like they are surrounded by hate with the prevalence of racism, coupled with discrimination because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
In a breakdown of the numbers from The Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth of color attempted suicide at higher rates, compared to 12% of white youth, 31% of Native/indigenous youth, 21% of Black youth, 21% of multiracial youth, 18% of Latinx youth and 12% of Pacific Islander youth.
Half of all LGBTQ youth of color reported discrimination based on their race/ethnicity in the past year, including 67% of Black LGBTQ youth and 60% of Asian/Pacific Islander LGBTQ youth.
The Pandemic Has Been Hard on LGBTQIA+ Youth
The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the disparities faced by marginalized groups, especially LGBTQIA+ youth. In addition to trying to protect themselves from the virus, 70% of LGBTQ youth reported poor mental health throughout most of the pandemic, and many also reported food and housing insecurity.
Two out of three youth reported that they were living in households that didn’t support or accept them. This rejection and lack of support in combination with pandemic uncertainties created a nearly unbearable weight of additional trauma, pain and fear for many youth.
How You Can Help
There are many ways you can provide life-changing acceptance and resources to LGBTQIA+ youth and people of all ages. Here are some meaningful ways you can show your support:
- Check-in with them regularly to ask how they’re doing. Show that you care about them and be a supportive listener. Keep conversations open, honest and judgment-free.
- Create safe, inclusive and affirming spaces for LGBTQIA+ youth where they can freely express themselves and build supportive connections & relationships.
- Use a transgender or gender non-conforming youth’s chosen name and pronouns. This simple action can help reduce their risk of suicide by 50%! Additionally, those who are able to change their name and/or gender marker on legal documents (i.e., driver’s licenses and birth certificates) reported lower suicide attempt rates.
- If a youth is struggling, help connect them to services and resources, such as counseling or an assessment from a doctor or mental health professional. The Trevor Project survey found that almost half (48%) of LGBTQ youth actually want more access to mental health and counseling services, but most of them experience barriers to access.
- If you’re concerned a child in your care might be struggling, KVC Hospitals provides a free assessment. The assessment is not intended to replace a professional exam, but it can be a good starting point.
- Be aware of warning signs that a child or teen may be struggling with their mental health or suicidal thoughts. Watch for:
- Talk about not wanting to live, feeling hopeless, or making comments about life being pointless.
- Drastic changes in mood.
- Risky behaviors such as alcohol or drug use.
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns.
- And more. Visit www.kvchospitals.org/lgbtq to learn more signs to watch for.
How KVC Hospitals Is Helping LGBTQIA+ Youth
KVC Hospitals advocates for the LGBTQIA+ community and we believe every child deserves love, acceptance and support. We understand the importance of inclusivity and work to create education and awareness for communities about how they can be compassionate and engaging with children and teens, and especially those who are more at risk of experiencing mental health challenges.
We know “We all need connection,” and we partner with our communities to give every person access to resources and opportunities for wellness and happiness.
Clients at KVC receive a personalized, trauma-informed treatment plan based on their unique life experiences and mental health needs. Treatment plans are designed to teach youth practical tools that help them develop resilience and build skills for regulating their emotions. A combination of individualized, group and expressive therapies helps our clients express themselves in the ways that are most comfortable for them so they can begin to cope, heal and learn healthy responses to life’s challenges.
At the heart of our work, we are here to provide support and compassion for every single child who walks through our doors. We are here to listen to their stories and help them heal from any trauma or pain they have experienced in life.
Looking for more information?
KVC provides online resources for LGBTQIA+ youth, families, caregivers, and the community to provide education, support, and answers to questions. You can also download and print the below infographic to share with family and friends to spread awareness about organizations that can help LGBTQIA+ youth who are struggling with their mental health.
About The Trevor Project Survey
The 2021 survey is the third annual for The Trevor Project. This year’s survey focused on how LGBTQ teens were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey provided brand new data on the impacts of the pandemic, mental health disparities, food insecurity, conversion therapy, suicide and the benefits of LGBTQ-affirming safe spaces and respecting the pronouns of transgender and nonbinary youth. The survey results were compiled based on the responses of 35,000 LGBTQ youth, between the ages of 13-24 across the United States. Visit http://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2021 to read the full report.