The month of June is LGBTQ Pride month in honor of the 1969 Stonewall riots, which were the tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the U.S. 45 years later, the LGBTQ community has made huge strides towards equality in America, and has helped reduce stigma and advocate for equality for LGBTQ Americans. However, there are many unfinished battles—including the high rates of mental health issues among LGBTQ youth due to bullying, lack of acceptance within their communities, and difficulty receiving appropriate treatment. While 1 in 4 Americans will face a mental health issue in their lifetime, LGBTQ youth face unique risks to their mental health and well-being. Research suggests that LGBTQ youth are likely to be at higher risk of depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) “the reason for these disparities is most likely related to the societal stigma and resulting prejudice and discrimination that [LGBTQ] face on a regular basis, from society at large, but also from family members, peers, co-workers, and classmates.” Stigma and discrimination can have serious effects on young people—including missing school for fear of bullying, homelessness, and suicide. In order to prevent such outcomes, mental health providers and advocates for youth must understand and be sensitive to the specific needs of the LGBTQ community.
Addressing the unique needs of LGBTQ youth
In recent years, projects like “It Gets Better” and “Day of Silence” has pushed discussion of suicide awareness and mental health problems among the LGBTQ population to the foreground. Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has done a fantastic job putting together the “Safe Space Campaign,” encouraging educators to create a safe space for LGBTQ students and their allies to get together speak their mind about their problems. Dialogue about the unique difficulties LGBTQ persons face on a day-to-day basis has increased, but that does not change the fact that LGBTQ youth still find it difficult to speak to other adults about their problems for fear of being bullied or treated differently. Here are some ways that you can help create safe spaces for these vulnerable youth: