Does the medical community do enough to reach out to LGBT youth?

Sexual minority youth are nine times more likely to harbor suicidal thoughts than their counterparts

Adolescence can be a difficult time, even for teenagers who seem extremely well-adjusted. Physical and hormonal changes are hard enough to deal with, but when you add feelings of isolation and loneliness to the mix, it can make the whole process that much worse. Sadly this is reality for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teens. But a new study in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing shows positive attitudes from family members towards LGBT teens reduces their risk for depression, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and often results in the formation of healthier relationships in adulthood.

Sounds like good— if not a tad obvious— information for parents of LGBT kids, but as pointed out by Scott Leibowitz, MD, of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Department of Psychiatry, it’s important knowledge for any adult who interacts with kids, not just the parents of openly gay or transgender children.

“Feeling alone and confused during a difficult time can be the prime recipe for turning to poor coping strategies like substance abuse and self-injurious behaviors, which can lead to worsening depression and suicidal thoughts,” he says. “This data just reinforces the idea that adults need to do more to reach out to all youth, even if they’re not indicating that they are different or something might be wrong.”

Sexual minority youth are nine times more likely to harbor suicidal thoughts than their counterparts. In many cases, the teens have never told anyone about their sexual orientation or gender identity, which means they may have unanswered questions or are internally dealing with some form of stress or anxiety because of it. Having support systems in place for these young people is essential to their health, but only works if they are aware that these environments promote understanding and acceptance towards the issues they’re facing.

Scott Leibowitz, MD

“Unfortunately, the kids I see in my practice aren’t usually the ones identified in this study because many of my patients have parents who are more aware of their feelings and needs,” Leibowitz says. “A lot of the time the teens who most desperately need mental health interventions for issues dealing with nonconventional feelings about sexuality and gender are the least likely to get it because no one has reached out to them, or their parents don’t feel comfortable discussing the issue.”

To help identify more of these teens before their anxiety leads to depression or other high-risk behaviors, Leibowitz says the medical community needs to be more proactive in addressing sexuality, even if the parent or child they’re examining hasn’t broached the subject.

“By talking openly about these topics with our patients, it suggests as professionals that we are comfortable with them, which reinforces a climate of acceptance,” he says. “Only through full acceptance can we really make strides in reducing issues like depression, suicide, and substance abuse among sexual minority youth.”

If you believe your child may have questions about his or her sexuality or gender identity but aren’t sure how to approach the subject Leibowitz suggests discussing the subject with your child’s pediatrician or exploring online websites such as PFLAG, a reputable online resource for parents of sexual minority youth.

As Dr. Leibowitz stated, an improved sense of acceptance is key in ending feelings of isolation among GBLT teens. Recently, the “It Gets Better Project” has exploded across the internet, promoting the ideas Leibowitz mentioned while reassuring LGBT teens everywhere that, though adolescence may seem especially difficult time in their lives, things do, in fact, get better. Joining the mission, the GLBT & Friends Group at Children’s Hospital Boston recently created it’s own It Gets Better video.

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