Mental Health

Loudly, Proudly Supporting LGBTQIA+ Teens

Pride Month has highlighted the dangers of being part of the LGBTQIA+ in the United States, the importance of teaching empathy to teens as they find themselves confused about LGBTQIA+ peers, and the necessity to highlight and uplift those who continue to stand proud as LGBTQIA+ in a toxic climate. This Pride Month, let’s examine how parents and other adults can contribute to helping LGBTQIA+ teens embrace their identities and help other teens be more accepting of their peers. As with most behaviors and habits, it all starts in the home.

What Does Your Teen Think?

A habit that can help parents and adults connect with teens and better understand how they currently see the world is to ask them questions. For example, when watching a TV show together, or when your teen shows you a video or meme, ask them what they think about it. Avoid immediately shutting them down for their opinion or declaring your own in contrast. Instead, please take a moment to think about what they’ve said and try to continue an honest conversation about why your teen feels the way they do.

Sometimes, teenagers share and laugh at offensive content or so-called “edgy” jokes. They might also share and laugh at homophobic content, sexist content, or so-called “non-PC” content. On the surface, we’ve all been exposed to offensive humor, and it’s generally accepted that nothing is taboo when it comes to jokes and satire. But even jokes can have an immediate impact on the people they’re centered on. For example, rape jokes leave women feeling more anxious and vulnerable and lead men to take rape less seriously.

Teens are potentially drawn to this kind of humor because it’s usually new to them for a time. But taking the time to have an honest conversation with your teen about this kind of content might help you make them think about the deeper implications of sharing it with others, especially those it seeks to make fun of. Of course, the goal isn’t to police how your teen thinks or what they should watch.

It is to help them develop a resistance to hateful rhetoric and recognize where they might want to draw a line when making fun of someone else personally. There are differences between offensive humor that help highlight the ridiculousness and poor rhetoric of certain racist or stereotypical sentiments and humor that makes the offense itself its only punchline. Instead of reprimanding your teen for their opinions, try to understand them and think about how you might be able to convince them to have an open mind about other people.

Be Open to Learn More

Parents continue to be a central influence on their teens, even if it doesn’t feel like that sometimes. While it is true that teens pay a lot of attention to what their peers think and like, parental influence is an overarching factor that even plays a role in what peers a teen will associate with. In other words, sometimes, a teen’s choices in peers serve to reinforce what they’ve learned at home.

To that end, being a good role model for your children continues to be important even later in their life, as they approach adulthood. If you want to leave a legacy of acceptance and empathy in your children, consider how your own actions and behaviors can be interpreted, and what you’ve done to contribute to decreasing victimization at school, home, or in the community, or confronting bigotry and hateful speech.

An Inclusive Environment

Regardless of whether your teen identifies as part of the LGBTQIA+ or wishes to be an ally, a big part of helping shape an inclusive mindset is to practice empathy and inclusion at home. Teens from all backgrounds are in the process of asking themselves who they are and developing an identity. They will worry, one way or the other, about being acceptable to others, about how they will be received by their friends and family, and about tailoring themselves to avoid victimization.

Make sure your children understand that they have the right to be themselves and that you’re here to foster a healthy environment for them to grow up in, rather than dictate who they should be as they age. Ask yourself if you’re trying to mold your child into what you perceive to be the right way to be, or if you’re open to raising someone you might personally disagree with but still want to love and support. If you aren’t sure that your home environment is helping your teen truly be themselves, you might want to try and find ways to connect with your child and ensure that they aren’t afraid of being themselves in front of you.

It’s Okay to Take Your Time

Parents may have a harder time adjusting to new information and taking in new ideas than their teens. But, on the other hand, they benefit from the wisdom that age, experience, and hindsight bring. Sometimes, parents feel tempted to polarize their positions because of how their teens might act when faced with a disagreeing opinion. Still, we want to encourage you to take your time to go through these topics at your own pace, inform yourself, and be open to new information.

Resources for Parents of LGBTQIA+ Teens

If you want to hear from other parents with LGBTQIA+ teens, or want to learn more about how LGBTQIA+ youth can be uplifted in the United States, here are a couple of key organizations and resources to get you started:

Building a better attitude towards other people is something you can start doing today – but it takes time for any single person’s efforts to result in real change. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can help to think about how your actions and habits play a role in impacting the life of your teen – whether to help them develop greater empathy skills, teach them to broaden their horizons or help them feel empowered to be themselves and embrace what they were born with.

Teens who identify as LGBTQIA+ face more vitriol and hate today than ten years ago. This Pride Month, let us celebrate and embolden them to embrace who they are, speak out against victimization and bigotry, and help our teens and friends learn to be more accepting of one another.

Mental Health

Beyond Pride Month: Fostering Values of Inclusion & Unbiased Attitudes in Teens

Teens who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ are statistically more likely to struggle with depression, victimization, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts (as well as actions) than their heterosexual, cisgender (i.e., same gender and sex) peers. Of course, being different from the rest of society has its distinct downsides, especially for kids trying to figure out what their place in the world might be and realize that that place comes with a lot of judgment, victimization, and abuse. Nevertheless, as adults, we have a role to play in society as behavioral models for our kids and their peers.

For example, one of the most basic rules of proper etiquette in society is to respect other people’s boundaries and do unto them only as you’d want done unto yourself. But in many cases, just not hurting others might not be enough. We can sometimes take a more proactive role in being allies to kids and teens who find themselves victimized by others and welcome kids and teens who might identify with different gender identities or expressions than the rest of society into our friend and family circles.

What Does Being an Ally Mean?

By being allies, we also teach our kids that it’s important to call out oppressive or victimizing behavior, educate and inform ourselves on what it means to be a productive and helpful ally, and be empathic towards others, regardless of race or gender. So being an ally is about more than just tolerating or being indifferent towards LGBTQIA+ teens.

It’s about providing support and advocacy as well, by standing up for them, giving them the space to speak up when that space is taken away, and putting our own voices behind our LGBTQIA+ peers as they fight for better healthcare, equal rights, the same job opportunities, an equal education, and less discrimination in public.

Your Role as an Ally Parent

Raising a teen ally means modeling ally behavior – by fostering the values of inclusion, empathy, and unbiased attitudes. Encourage questions, help your kids seek out information, educate yourself alongside your children, and actively take part in helping your child learn more about different cultures, ethnicities, religions, traditions, and practices. Teach your children that they can and should stand up for what’s fair and what’s right.

Empathy and compassion are not weaknesses but strengths – abilities that require putting others before oneself, recognizing the importance of selfless actions, and how we all have a responsibility to make this world a little bit easier to live in as a people. You can help encourage your teen to be more empathic by modeling empathic behavior yourself. Donate more time to neighborhood causes. Extend a helping hand more often. Become a volunteer. Hand out resources. Start honest conversations with your teen about how people are treated and how they treat others.

Take Advantage of the Power of Books

Research shows that when we begin to immerse ourselves in the viewpoints and experiences of others, we start to expand our empathic horizons – we see things from a different perspective and begin to build a worldview of inclusion. Human stories are compelling and help us learn more about how other people have lived and continue to live, whether right here at home in halfway across the globe.

Tap into the power of books and encourage reading stories from different cultures from a young age. After reading a book with your child, ask them questions that might help them further put themselves into someone else’s shoes. You can even explore different cultures together without the luxury of travel (especially in these difficult times) by trying out recipes and traditions from different parts of the world. Foster your child’s curiosity through an expanded view of the world.

People worldwide live in different ways, under different conditions, and prize different things – yet there are many ways in which we’re fundamentally the same, from our love of food and dance to the value of mutual respect, cultural heritage, and family. Reading a variety of books can also help your teen understand that there is no such thing as an ideal family. Every family can be a good family, and family diversity is an increasingly important topic as more and more families in the US become blended. In addition, the nuclear family becomes increasingly less common.

Focus on Empathy

Above all else, this Pride Month, becoming allies (or helping our teens become allies) centers around realizing the power and strength behind true empathy and compassion. Unfortunately, some teens seem to misunderstand taking other people’s feelings into account as a sign of weakness. But it takes immense strength to consider someone else’s pain and try to help them despite not being in their shoes.

It takes intelligence and a strong will to reject stereotypes and think for oneself. Being an ally is just about making sure that those around us who are least likely to be treated like normal human beings get the treatment they deserve – to feel normal and be accepted as people, just as they are, without being forced to sanitize their identity or make themselves more palatable to avoid bigotry.

Never Underestimate Parental Influence

Sure, peer influence is powerful – but kids, including teens, still base much of themselves on their parents, whether they like it or not. Your role as a parent should never be diminished – you have incredible influence over how your child acts and thinks, as well as over how they see the world, for better and for worse. The first step to helping your child become more compassionate is to look in the mirror.

That being said, it also doesn’t hurt to recognize and accept that change comes from within and takes time, even in teens. Teenagers are still developing both emotionally and mentally. They may not have the necessary tools to fully understand their place and role in the world and the value and importance of considering others. Some teens might be more predisposed towards such thoughts and feelings than others. Be patient and be a good role model.

Mental Health

Honoring LGBTQIA+ Pride Month 2021 With Rainbows, Glitter Galore & Reflection

June is LGBTQIA+ Pride Month every year, honor of the 1969 Stonewall riots, a milestone in the gay liberation movement, and LGBTQIA+ rights in the United States. Yet despite advances in LGBTQIA+ rights, LGBTQIA+ youth and adults continue to face harassment and discrimination for their gender identity and sexuality. In fact, the statistics for hate crimes against trans individuals have actually gone up significantly in recent years. Despite the legalization of same-sex marriages and acknowledging the gay community in establishment politics, the anti-LGBTQIA+ bias persists in the job market, medicine, schools, and society.

Part of the impact of widespread victimization towards LGBTQIA+ teens includes an increased risk for mental health issues and a greater risk for substance use. LGBTQIA+ youth – trans youth in particular – have higher suicide rates than the general population and lack access to adequate mental health resources. This year, we need to find ways to do better – and empower our children to become the adults they want to be while ensuring that the world around them begins to treat them just as well as any heterosexual and cisgender adult.

LGBTQIA+ and the Importance of Mental Health Advocacy

Mental health resources are more critical than ever, particularly to older teens, who are most at risk of developing mental health issues due to the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers have identified that because older teens are less reliant on their parents than younger children and lack the established and lifelong social bonds that older adults have had before the start of the pandemic, the impact of long-term loneliness and a lack of human contact during the coronavirus pandemic is often much more severe for them. A strained healthcare system also means fewer Americans have had access to the mental healthcare resources they need.

Research from the Trevor Project has also brought to light that LGBTQIA+ youth continue to have a harder time getting access to the resources they need. Of the 35,000 teens and young adults aged 13 to 24 that the organization surveyed, a dire 42 percent reported contemplating suicide in December 2020. The number was higher among trans and nonbinary teens, at 52 percent. By recognizing the need for better and easier access to mental healthcare, as well by addressing discrimination in the healthcare industry, we can ensure that our teens and future generations can benefit from advances in psychiatric medicine and treatment and get the help they need to enjoy a better quality of life, even when faced with severe mood disorders or substance use disorder.

Participating in Pride Month 2021

While the world is still far from having recovered from the pandemic, there are organized Pride events in the US this year. There are many ways to safely attend these events, either virtually or by attending small gatherings and staying socially distant. You can find a Pride event near you online and inform yourself of the requirements and restrictions around the event nearest to you. Or you can join in virtually.

Helping LGBTQIA+ Youth Find Local Resources

This Pride Month, take the time to find and share local and national resources for the mental healthcare of at-risk LGBTQIA+ youth through the following links, as well as state resources.

Take Time for Yourself

This year should also be a time for reflection. Many of us have raced from week to week to survive, make ends meet, or figure out our next steps. Let’s take this Pride Month to consider the impact of the last year and reevaluate our own needs – whether as teens and students, as young working adults, or as parents. Each of us has had to make compromises due to COVID-19, and we have all felt the effects of the pandemic in one way or another – whether through the death of a loved one, the strain on society, the economy, or through healthcare. Statistics show that mental health issues are slated to grow across the board due to the pandemic and that the effects of the ensuing “mental health epidemic” will be felt for years to come. Take the time to address or figure out your needs – and take preventative steps or talk with a professional.

More Than Homophobia

Most people would agree that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this statement: heterosexuality is the norm in society. However, the impact of assigning a “norm” to gender and sexuality can be harmful to some, especially young teens, who are in the middle of trying to fit into the world and are quickly learning that their existence is “not normal” and is considered uncomfortable to some people. One of the elements of Pride is attempting to help those who feel self-conscious about their identity learn to embrace it, accept it, and feel proud despite some people’s reactions. We need to be conscious of how young people whose identities are seen as uncomfortable or “not normal” can harm them.

Because we live in a heteronormative world, much of society is structured around differentiating between heterosexuality and everything else. Until recently, non-heterosexual representation was tough to come by, and to this day, there is serious stress associated with coming out and making one’s relationships public. Being non-heterosexual and non-cisgender often singles one out. There’s nothing wrong or problematic with acknowledging that heterosexuality is more common than other sexual identities. But that shouldn’t stop heterosexual and cisgender parents and friends from considering how the world might feel exclusionary to their loved ones and how they might need to be empowered to rise above that fact.

Looking for Help?

If you are looking for ways to help someone with signs of depression or anxiety, it may be a good idea to speak to them about getting in touch with a professional. Sometimes, teens don’t get the help they need because they aren’t sure who or how to ask for it.

Mental Health

Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health During Pride Month and Beyond

As discussions surrounding discrimination reach peak relevancy this Pride Month, it’s important to be aware of the inequality that has been a primary issue for teens and young adults in the LGBTQ+ community for decades, and continues to be a pressing issue over 50 years after the Stonewall riots.

LGBTQ+ youth have been on the receiving end of underreported suicides and fatal harassment, denial of medical care, discrimination at school and in the workplace, and vicious bullying for years and years. Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Lamdba Legal have made a huge impact on helping non-LGBTQ+ Americans recognize the legitimacy of our LGBTQ+ youth and shine a light on these issues.

Yet we are far from reaching a point of equality and understanding. Just a few days ago, the current administration reversed key health protections for transgender people. A recent National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health in 2021 found 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide. Higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation continue to be linked to rejection by family members, negative bias, discrimination, and serious barriers to access for mental and physical healthcare.

As educators, parents, friends, and allies, our role in helping our loved ones in the LGBTQ+ community is and always has been vital. Here are some of the ways you can continue to support the mental health condition of LGBTQ+ teens and loved ones.

Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ+ Youth

GLAAD’s annual survey on acceptance shows the number of Americans between ages 18 and 34 who are comfortable around LGBTQ+ individuals has decreased from 63 percent in 2016 and 53 percent in 2017 to 45 percent in 2018. Meanwhile, the number of young people who feel uncomfortable with the idea of having an LGBTQ+ relative has increased (from 29 percent to 36 percent), and more feel uncomfortable with the idea that their child had a school lesson on LGBTQ+ history (39 percent) than the previous year (30 percent).

The slow erosion of tolerance, particularly among young people, is surprising – and some speculate it might be tied to the “newness” of LGBTQ+ identities for teens and young people who had not previously been aware of non-binary gender identities and sexual orientations other than homosexuality and heterosexuality. Nevertheless, it hints at the need for more information and understanding on the topic of LGBTQ+ identity, particularly for teens and adults who feel confused by the concepts of distinguishing between biological sex, gender, and orientation.

Spreading LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health Awareness

Aside from a rise in hate and discrimination, especially against trans people of color, another startling issue demanding attention is the lack of access to critical care for LGBTQ+ youth, as well as a lack of LGBTQ+ sex education, and general health care disparities among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. A report published by Human Rights Watch details how members of the LGBTQ+ community face discrimination leading to delays in critical care, leaving LGBTQ+ youth more vulnerable to mental health issues such as depression and substance abuse, as well as physical conditions like cancer and chronic pain.

The Affordable Care Act had previously prohibited discrimination in healthcare on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, yet even then issues of discrimination continued to occur. Prior to roll backs issued by the current administration that further puts LGBTQ+ youth at risk, surveys from 2017 already showed discrimination actively discouraged teens and adults in the LGBTQ+ community from seeking care when they needed it, and LGBTQ+ community members often had trouble finding alternatives after being turned away.

    • 9 percent of LGBTQ+ respondents reported that their healthcare provider used abusive language when treating them
    • 8 percent reported refusal of service
    • 7 percent reported unwanted physical contact (including sexual assault and fondling)

Among transgender respondents, the discrimination was even worse. 29 percent said they experienced refusal of service, 29 percent reported unwanted physical contact, and 21 percent reported abusive language. Nearly one in four transgender individuals refused to seek out healthcare out of fear of discrimination in 2015. Spreading awareness on these issues and highlighting the need to fight against discrimination in healthcare, both mental and physical, is critical if we wish to reduce the rate at which LGBTQ+ youth experience negative healthcare outcomes and complications related to poor healthcare, or none at all.

Speaking Out Against LGBTQ+ Discrimination and Bullying at School

A report on the effects of school bullying on LGBTQ+ youth, 85 percent reported being verbally harassed for their sexual orientation, and 44 percent were physically harassed for their sexual orientation. Compared to peers who reported low levels of school victimization, a survey of 245 LGBTQ+ individuals found higher levels of school victimization led to:

    • 2.6 times greater likelihood of depression
    • 5.6 times greater likelihood of attempted suicide
    • 2 times greater likelihood of an STD diagnosis

Across the board, higher levels of bullying and victimization led to significantly higher instances of depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, and STD diagnoses later in life. If you have noticed that your loved one has experienced discrimination or bullying at school because of their nonconforming gender identity or sexual orientation, bring it up with the teachers and those in charge.

If the school does not already have a policy on anti-LGBTQ+ bullying and discrimination, petition for them to make one. And if the school does not have a student-run Genders & Sexualities Alliance (GSA), consider looking into organizing one, as GSAs can play a critical role in disseminating information and helping middle and high school students educate themselves on the topics of gender identity, sexual orientation, bullying, and suicide prevention.

Helping LGBTQ+ Loved Ones Seek Access to Mental and Physical Healthcare

Ultimately, public health recourse for teens experiencing victimization because of their LGBTQ+ identity is limited. It is important to encourage them to seek outside help for mental illness treatment and support, via LGBTQ+ mental health services, providers and therapists. Advocate for your loved one’s access to mental and physical healthcare and seek out local resources to help you identify LGBTQ+ friendly therapists, and specialists.

The best way to be an ally to a loved one is to help defend their basic human rights to exist, express themselves, and seek care and support from you and others. Many teens and youth are confused about who they are and lack the access to information they might be able to use to better understand themselves, which is why helping them seek information out can be vital as well. By expressing your support for them, you also empower them to find out who they are without judgment and bias.

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