Parents’ support key to mental health among LGBTQ+ youth, experts say
SALT LAKE CITY – Nearly 20% of adults in the U.S. live with a mental health condition. In the LGBTQ+ community, that number is three times higher and when you look at teens and adolescents, those statistics are just as alarming.
Utah’s statewide SHARP survey in 2021 found 48% of gay and lesbian students had seriously considered suicide in the past year, compared to 14% of heterosexual students. Bisexual students were even more at risk, with 51% saying they had seriously considered suicide.
Shawn Howell does not want her child to become part of those statistics which is why she is making a conscious effort to call Evan by their preferred pronoun.
“For me what it comes down to is I’m worried about keeping my child alive,” Howell said. “It is really difficult to watch your child be shunned or threatened because of how they are choosing – I say choosing to express themselves, but really just by being themself.”
Evan Howell regularly attends Encircle activities. The nonprofit offers a wide variety of programs including counseling services, support groups, friendship circles, speaker series and many helpful resources and tools for the LGBTQ+ community and their families.
Evan found the center at a critical time in their life.
“I figured out I was like bisexual probably a year before I went to Encircle and I didn’t know anybody who is bisexual,” Evan said. “I thought I was the only one that existed.”
The 14-year-old said feeling isolated weighed heavily until connecting with people just like them.
“Yeah, they understand what it’s like to feel alone or feel like people don’t like you,” Evan said.
“Be curious, not judgmental”
JoAnn Cook is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Huntsman Mental Health Institute. Cook works closely with LGBTQ+ youth and their families and says it is extremely hard for adolescents to feel validated when their environment is not supportive.
“When the answer is, ‘We don’t believe you,’ or ‘We are going to call you something that you aren’t,’ it could be soul crushing,” Cook said.
National data from the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey found that LBGTQ+ youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate (42.8%) of heterosexual youth (14.8%).
Cook encourages parents to be curious and ask questions if your child is exploring their identity.
“Instead of telling a kid how they should be, ask them how they are and what their experience is. Getting a kid to talk – significant difference,” Cook said.
Cook admits these can be difficult conversations but having family support is crucial to an adolescents’ mental health.
“Bottom line, you just tell your kid you love them and then you work really hard and ask for corrections,” Cook said.
Show your child support
Evan Howell has seen a huge shift in their life after coming out to their parents and encourages others to seek out that support.
“My parents are just the most amazing people in the world,” Evan said. “They have always been open and been like, ‘How can I support you better, how can I make you feel better, how can I make (you) feel loved.’”
Evan’s mother hopes by being more accepting, her child will be able to live a healthy, authentic life.
“This is who they are, and they are such a bright light and have so much to offer to society by living authentically,” she said. “I know I personally want to live authentically, and I want to extend that same gift to my child.”
Suicide Prevention Resources
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
- Utah County Crisis Line: 801-691-5433
- Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
- Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386
- NAMI Utah: namiut.org
- Utah Chapter-American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: afsputah.com · Suicide Prevention Lifeline: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
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