LGBTQ youth (teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning/queer) are far more likely to experience victimization because of their identity, are far more likely to struggle with symptoms of mental illness, and are far more likely to resort to self-harm and suicide. With all of these variables at play, it’s essential to support LGBTQ teen mental health to provide help, empowerment, and growth.
These statistics are not inherent to being queer, but they are often a side effect of identifying as part of the LGBTQ community or living under circumstances that force repression and self-hatred. Getting help can be difficult, especially when teens worry about or fear the repercussions of coming out as LGBTQ or struggle with acknowledging their identity.
Acceptance goes a long way. Mental health rates and suicide have gone down among gay and lesbian teens, although they are still above the rates for their straight peers. In the same vein, suicide rates remained highest among trans teens, especially in the wake of a rise in violence against LGBTQ youth and continued attacks on LGBTQ groups – especially trans individuals – in both media and politics in America.
Helping your LGBTQ teen get the support they need to lead a fulfilling and happy life can be difficult, but it can be done. The resources are there, and the communities exist, both locally and online. You are not alone, whether as a teen or as a parent.
Beware of Conversion Schemes
Seeking help is an important part of getting better, whether you initiate it with your teen or through your teen’s own research. But with the desperation of wanting treatment comes the vulnerability that leads thousands of teens and parents into the trap of conversion therapy.
Regardless of your personal beliefs, research shows that conversion therapy is unethical and harmful to children and teens. It does not work and only causes lasting psychological trauma as a result. It is under no circumstances a form of “therapy” to begin with, and it is, with good reason, banned in 19 different states and jurisdictions.
Finding a Therapist with Knowledge of LGBTQ Teen Mental Health
The best thing you can do for your teen’s well-being, and to help your teen cope with the growing mental stressors associated with coming out as an LGBTQ+ individual, is to accept them as they are and, if they are struggling with their mental health, find a professional therapist or psychiatrist who has a history of advocating for the LGBTQ+ community, LGBTQ+ teens, and/or LGBTQ teen mental health.
A therapist with a personal history and knowledge of the different struggles that LGBTQ teens go through today may be able to have more success in helping your teen find treatment than someone with no experience with LGBTQ.
Just as personal representation in media can make a difference for many teens and adults who feel invisible in a heteronormative culture, working with a mental health professional who has personal experiences in the LGBTQ community to draw on or can better relate to your teen professionally through their LGBTQ identity may be a better fit for them.
Comfort is important when choosing your therapist. A gay man or a trans woman may have a better idea of what it is like to be in your teen’s shoes, in addition to their professional training and academic experience as psychologists and therapists, to help identify valid treatment options, root out local resources, and help cope with individual stressors.
How You Can Help Your Teen
There are countless ways in which parents contribute to their teens’ well-being, knowingly and unknowingly.
While professional treatment is important, especially in the event of self-harm, suicidal episodes, or debilitating mental health symptoms, parents should never underestimate the significance of their influence and supportive parenting, nor should they lose sight of how their actions and behaviors continue to shape their teens’ lives. Here are a few things you could do or are doing that can continue to help your teen with their mental health.
- Let your teen know they’re loved unconditionally.
- Talk to them and hear them out. Listen to their thoughts and words.
- Spend time getting to know their interests a little better. Spending time with your teen and showing interest in what they like can help them feel more comfortable talking to you about other things, and helps them understand that you aren’t out to judge them as many others might be.
- Review your misconceptions. Well-meaning intentions may lead to ideas and sayings that are actively hurting your teen. For example, don’t shrug off their identity or their mental health issues as “just a phase.” Learning more about gender identities and sexual orientation can help you relate to your teen and avoid alienating them.
- Advocate at school. Not all schools have LGBTQ+ ally groups or LGBTQ-friendly student bodies, but all schools have LGBTQ teens. Talk to teachers and parents about organizing queer-straight alliance organizations to help LGBTQ teens in your community feel welcome, and to reduce victimization.
- Talk to the teachers. Teachers can be a good source of information about what’s going on at school. Your teen might not always be forthcoming about what’s going on at school, especially if they’re being hurt or bullied. They may blame themselves or feel ashamed.
- Get into therapy together. If your teen is struggling with depression or anxious thoughts or has a history of self-harm, then getting help can be daunting. Mental illness, in particular, has a way of feeding on self-doubt and shame, and many teens who know they need help may be reluctant to get it. Encourage them by making an appointment together and tagging along the first few times. Alternatively, look into remote online therapy as an option, to begin with.
- Give them privacy. Being there for your teen is important, but there’s a difference between being aware of what’s going on in their lives and spying without their consent. If you try to monitor all of your teen’s online activities, for example, they’re just more likely to go to greater lengths to establish secret accounts or carve out some other niche of privacy and foster resentment. The best way to keep your teen from keeping too many secrets from you is to ensure they know you’re always available to talk to and are willing to listen.
LGBTQ Teen Mental Health Services at Visions
Being a parent is hard, and it can be harder yet when your teen is struggling with depressive or anxious thoughts. LGBTQ+ teens are just like any other teen but are much more at-risk for mental health issues, often as an indirect result of their identity. Helping them protect themselves, know they are loved, develop stronger self-esteem, and feel proud in their own skin can go a long way towards helping them feel better.
If you or a loved one is seeking additional information on LGBTQ teen mental health, reach out to us. At Visions Treatment Centers, we offer unique mental health programming for LGBTQ+ teens, addressing many issues often found in the LGBTQ+ community.