03 Aug What you should know about LGBTQ youth mental health
By Rebecca Smith
Every so often, a Next Step counselor will see an adolescent who is struggling with their LGBTQ identity. For these students, counseling can make the biggest difference, as they can be especially vulnerable to mental health issues.
“Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 15 to 24, and LGBTQ youth are more likely to attempt suicide than their peers,” according to Youth.gov. “This does not mean, however, that LGBTQ identity itself is the cause of these challenges. Rather, these higher rates may be due to bias, discrimination, family rejection, and other stressors associated with how they are treated because of their sexual identity or gender identity/expression.”
It is estimated that 10.5% of high school students identified as LGB: 2.5% identified as gay or lesbian and 8% as bisexual.
However, according to research from The Trevor Project, “LGBTQ youth who report having at least one accepting adult were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year.”
Next Step counselors can be that accepting adult for teens.
“Being someone who listens without judgments and meets them where they’re at for what they need, I see their face light up,” said Next Step counselor Lauri Abernathy. “I see them build themselves up in the session, I see the light come on. No matter what their priest, or parent, or grandparent says, I get to help them see that they are still a person. Someone is validating them as a human being. That has been the biggest thing. It’s hard enough to go through adolescence without being different.”
Another counselor, who wishes to remain anonymous to protect their clients’ identity, recalled one student who was struggling with gender identity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 2% of high school students identify as transgender, and 35% attempted suicide in the past year.
“I don’t like myself. I hate my body,” the student told the counselor during the assessment.
“Like you hate being in your own skin?” The counselor asked.
The student lifted their head.
“Yeah. How did you know?” the student asked.
“Well, there’s a lot of people who hate being in their own skin, because sometimes they feel like they are born in the wrong body,” The counselor said.
The student’s eyes widened.
“That’s how I feel,” the student said through sobs. “I want to be a boy … Do you know how freeing it feels to finally tell somebody that? I’ve never told anyone that.”
The student begged the counselor not to tell their mom, terrified their mom would hate them. Through their sessions, the counselor helped the student find the courage to tell their family themselves. Their family didn’t hate them after all.
“It was a very scary thing for them, but it was eating them alive,” the counselor said. “Kids are so hungry for anyone who will give them words of encouragement. If they have one person who tell them ‘You can do this, you got this,’ and show them the other people are in their life who they can really rely on, they can do it. Sometimes it’s just a matter of giving them that awareness and those coping skills.”