Suicides rates are rising among different groups, including adults, youths, and even teenagers. Here we look at ways to improve mental health care for LGBTQ+ youth.
However, LGBTQ+ youths have higher rates of suicidal thoughts and actions. A 2016 study suggests that LGBTQ+ youth consider suicide three times more than heterosexual youth.
Also in a 2019 National Survey on LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health reported that 39% of LGBTQ+ seriously thought of committing suicide, with 79% of LGBTQ+ youth feeling hopeless or sad.
A 2015 Youth Risk Behaviour Survey noted that:
- 34% of LGBTQ+ youths were bullied at school.
- 18% of LGBTQ+ youth reported sexual violence.
- 18% of LGBTQ+ experienced physical violence.
- 1 out of 10 LGBTQ+ youth was injured with a weapon.
In addition to rejection from family and friends, all these aspects put immense strain on LGBTQ+ youth mental health.
Another 2013 National School Climate Survey highlights that schools may provide unhealthy learning environments, exposing LGBTQ+ youth to discriminatory behavior and anti-LGBTQ+ behavior.
A discussion of the challenges LGBTQ+ youth face in seeking effective mental health services is often left out in national debates of health care reforms.
Barriers to Seeking Mental Health Care For LGBTQ+ Youth
LGBTQ+ youth struggle to find appropriate mental health treatment. It’s often hard for them because of the following barriers:
- Age restrictions, requiring parental permission.
- Inability to pay for treatment
- Previous negative experiences.
- Fear of rejection from family and friends when they come out.
- Inadequate LGBTQ+ specific training on primary healthcare providers
- Lack of information regarding LGBTQ+ health needs.
- Inadequate incentives to treat LGBTQ+ youth
- Transportation problems to reach out to secondary mental health providers
Recommendations to Improve Mental Health in LGBTQ+ Youth
Given the high rates of mental health challenges, suicide attempts, and the many barriers to seeking treatments, the following recommendations can help.
Increased Funding for Mental Health Care
One of the barriers to good mental health care for LGBTQ+ youth is underfunded health care systems with inequitable or ineffective policies.
For instance, 53% of LGBTQ+ youth reported they could not get the desired mental health care due to poor services by care providers.
Some research found that good mental health care significantly reduced suicide attempts. To end suicide among LGBTQ+ youth, there is a desire to remove the barrier of cost of care.
To do so :
- State leaders should allocate enough funding to expand public mental health programs, particularly in non-urban areas with no mental health providers.
- Mental health parity laws should be expanded and enforced to ensure LGBTQ+ youth access providers who can accept their insurance.
Ending Stigma and Fear in Asking for Help
Mental health stigma and fear of coming out prevent many LGBTQ+ youths from seeking treatment. Furthermore, mental health care systems are complex, fragmented and often make it hard for those already overwhelmed and need care.
A certain study found that many LGBTQ+ youths were unable to access mental health care due to anxiety and depression, which made asking for help challenging.
Therefore, there is a need for widespread efforts to end mental health stigma and fear of asking for help. The following can help achieve that:
- Public health campaigns run by individuals trusted by LGBTQ+ youth
- Encouraging acceptance efforts in small communities, like churches, schools, and community centers.
- Health care providers should provide options for care that help LGBTQ+ youth, like follow-ups through telephone to enquire about appointments.
Policy Changes to Support Access to Mental Health Care
The available policies on public health and provider-level transformation do not fully address mental health in LGBTQ+ youth.
Among LGBTQ+ youth, parental permissions and age restrictions are major barriers to care. These policies around permissions and age restrictions endanger LGBTQ+ youth dealing with the fear of coming out, rejection, or abuse.
Such policies are still legal and are associated with many suicide attempts in LGBTQ+ youth.
The following can be done:
- States should have licensing policies that allow mental health care providers to treat youth below 18 years who would not receive care if parental permission is required.
- Mental health care, including tele-mental health, should be formed from clinical data. There is a need for additional policies to end the harmful effects of gender identity and sexual orientation.
- Conclusion: there is a need to allow LGBTQ+ youth to access healthcare providers who can give quality care, even across state lines.
Improving Cultural Knowledge of Mental Health Providers
LGBTQ+ youth have the highest risk of having mental health problems.
A study was conducted to discover how different cultures of LGBTQ+ youth receive mental treatment. It found that many LGBTQ+ youths who were Black, Latinx, and Asian reported high levels of not receiving the mental health care they desired compared to white LGBTQ+ youth. This is because the healthcare providers were white.
Therefore, there is a need to create a diverse mental health workforce to engage in anti-racism and address LGBTQ+ stigma.
- All training and education environments should be inclusive and supportive to the diverse candidates.
- Educative programs should ensure that cultural knowledge training includes examining and challenging individual biases.
- The development of a diverse workforce, staff, faculty, and students’ mental health training programs should reflect the diversity of LGBTQ+ youth being served.
Combining Technology to Improve Access to Mental Health Care
Many LGBTQ+ youths cannot receive care due to lack of transportation for appointments or health care providers being far from them. Also, the anxiety of leaving home and meeting new people hinders them from receiving care.
People should incorporate technology to provide care to those unable to reach the healthcare providers due to certain barriers. For example, COVID-19 has shown that care can be provided via telephone or video conferencing.
Mental Health – Bottom Line
The government and human rights organizations should address the barriers to mental healthcare for LGBTQ+ youth.
Addressing these barriers requires policies, such as using technology to provide care, funding healthcare facilities to provide quality care, changing some policies to favor and encourage LGBTQ+ youth to reach out for help, among many others.