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Pandemic Has Deepened Mental Health Challenges For LGBTQ Young People

Young people have struggled to adapt to new realities wrought by the pandemic. That is especially true for LGBTQ youth.

A recent survey by the national nonprofit the Trevor Project found 42% of LGBTQ young people seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.

Many may have already been grappling with difficult living situations and the realities of COVID-19 likely exacerbated that — 80% of respondents said the pandemic made their living situations more stressful.

Meanwhile, LGBTQ youth of color tend to face mental health issues at disproportionate rates. The survey found 31% of Indigenous LGBTQ young people attempted suicide over the last year, followed by 21% of Black and multi-racial youth. Eighteen percent of LGBTQ young people who are Latinx, and 12% of both Asian American and white youth, reported attempting suicide.

Tara Jae, a psychotherapist and founder of YouthSeen, a Colorado organization that supports LGBTQ youth, has been busy trying to meet an “overwhelming” need.

Jae says mental health and wellness resources are not easily accessible to LGBTQ youth, particularly young people of color. Asking young people what they need — and actually listening — is a critical part of Jae’s work.

“Parents are coming in and saying, 'Well, I know exactly what my child needs.' And in those moments, I often go back to the youth and say, 'What is it that you need? Because you know yourself a little bit more. Is talk therapy helpful? Or is it finding support groups with families and having activities and being able to be around your peers?'”

While Jae acknowledges talk therapy is not for everyone, those who are open to counseling face barriers as well. The survey found almost half of respondents wanted counseling in the last year but were unable to get help. Jae points to financial need and lack of insurance as key roadblocks.

Expanding access to mental health services is a heavy lift that Jae and other advocates continue to face head-on, but the survey found other small steps can make a demonstrable impact on a young person’s mental health.

“Transgender and non-binary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all of the people they lived with attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected by anyone they lived with,” the survey reads.

Jae, who uses the pronouns "they," "them" and "their," said respecting pronouns is “just as important as respecting someone's name. If someone tells you what their name is, then you're going to respect them and call them by their name and with pronouns it is the same thing.”

Although YouthSeen is based in Colorado, Jae says many kids seeking help come from other Western states with few supportive spaces, like community centers where a young person’s sexual identity or orientation are acknowledged and celebrated. The survey notes that young LGBTQ people who did have access to such resources reported lower rates of suicide attempts.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, there is help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at: 800-273-8255.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.