Uplifting the Mental Health of LGBTQ+ Youth

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An estimated 5% of the 1.76 million youth in military families identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer. Surveyed LGBTQ youth with a parent currently serving in the military that experienced high levels of family support reported lower mental health challenges and suicide risk (Trevor Project, 2022). When youth feel safe at home, their mental wellness is significantly improved. Fostering healthy family relationships translates into protective factors for younger and older family members alike. 

Military LGBTQ+ children and youth experience stressors commonly associated with military life. These include the extended absence of a parent (or parents) and frequent moves and relocations, which can create possible mental health challenges for children developing into young adulthood. Frequent moves may present the need to constantly build new supportive friend groups or find new inclusive communities. For LGBTQ+ youth, developing into who they are may become extra complex as they navigate the spectrum of their identity in a world (oftentimes) defines by binary beliefs. As a service provider, your interactions present unique opportunities to foster support and allyship for young LGBTQ members.

Below are actionable items to incorporate into your daily interactions with clients and with those in your community:

Language matters: 

  • The words we use and the way we talk about people/things/concepts can support activism and create safe spaces. Letting youth know that they have a safe, trusted adult to talk to about gender, identity, development, and their body opens the floor for conversation and for them to seek you out for mental health support. 
    • As you grow in your allyship, expanding your vocabulary can set the stage for inclusivity and change. We all have room to grow and learn! Using the proper language may take time. And your client may be exploring who they are, how they would like to identify, and what their preferences are. But being transparent, patient, and empathetic can create a platform of safety for them to feel free to do so safely. For example, one way to incorporate this into your daily interactions is to introduce yourself with your pronouns (and add it to your email signature). This sets a standard for recognizing and validating the pronoun preference of others. 
  • For more on language, watch these two webinars which provide foundational insight and guidance for working with LGBTQ military youth and families.

Bolster resilience: 

  • Resilience is defined as one’s capacity to cope, adapt, and grow positively, particularly in times of adversity and challenges. Most military youths are familiar with the value of resilience. Working with children and youth the identify tools, strategies, and plans to recover from adverse situations and feelings generates healthy mental health approaches. For more on addressing barriers, identifying various support systems, and promoting protective factors to support individual, family, and community resilience, watch our Resilience webinar mini-series.

Stay informed! 

  • Consistently staying up to date on language, news, policies, and community action will allow you to be best informed on what is impacting LGBTQ+ youth right now. The Trevor Project offers comprehensive resources for helping youth. Their resources include guides, articles, and data to help youth dealing with stress, anxiety, and mental health challenges. 

Language, labels, and concepts around the LGBTQ+ community shift and evolve as we all continue to listen and learn. What are some ways in which you have prepared to support LGBTQ+ youth in your practice?

OneOp will further our conversation around competent and compassionate support for military families with two webinars later this year. Stay tuned for those announcements coming soon!

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