Gaggle Speaks

Ideas, news, and advice for K-12 educators and administrators to help create safe learning environments.

Written by Paget Hetherington
on July 21, 2020

As I mentioned last week in the first installment of our Equity in Student Mental Health series, it is estimated that up to 20% of children in the United States experience mental health concerns. While these issues occur at similar frequencies across different races and demographics, disparities exist in regard to mental health support among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ+) communities, as well as Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities.

LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to experience a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, and as a result, they are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. With these shocking statistics in mind, it’s important to consider the ways educators, counselors, parents, and classmates can support LGBTQ+ students facing mental health struggles.

Support Students’ Preferences and Experiences
First and foremost, it is crucial to support and respect students’ preferences, names, and pronouns that they choose to identify with. By catering to each student’s specific identifiers, you’re acknowledging the validity of their existence and experience as an LGBTQ+ person. While it can be challenging to relearn students’ pronouns or a new name, you don’t have to get it perfect on the first try—it’s most important to show students that you care about their preferences and that you’re supporting them by putting in the work to learn.

Another way you can support LGBTQ+ students—particularly those experiencing gender dysphoria—is by providing safe spaces and offering options to make students feel more comfortable at school. One example of this is providing a gender-neutral bathroom or allowing students who feel unsafe to use a faculty or single-stall bathroom. You can also allow students who don’t identify as their birth gender to change for gym class in the bathroom to avoid experiencing distress from dysphoria or harassment from other students. Helping students feel safe at school can diminish the daily anxiety, bullying, and trauma many LGBTQ+ students experience.

Encourage Equity Initiatives and Clubs
One of the largest contributing factors to LGBTQ+ mental health issues is the trauma that students in these groups face on a daily basis. Between overt homophobia, discrimination, and bigotry, LGBTQ+ students are regularly called out and torn down for the way they identify.

Creating a support system for LGBTQ+ students is integral to their emotional well-being and success in school. Many of these students don’t have strong support systems at home, or they may not be “out” to their families yet. It’s important to provide students with safe spaces as they explore their identities and gather the courage to be their authentic selves.

Support LGBTQ+ students by encouraging initiatives like #StandUp against Hate from the Anti-Defamation League or supporting schoolwide policies to address bullying and intolerance both in and out of the classroom.

Reach Out With Resources
It’s not always possible to directly find solutions and provide support for specific issues that LGBTQ+ students face, but it is possible to connect students with resources that can help guide and support them in ways you may not be able to. Here are some resources to help support LGBTQ+ students’ mental health and well-being:

  • The Trevor Project: Leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth under 25
  • GLSEN: Working to ensure that LGBTQ+ students are able to learn and grow in a school environment free from bullying and harassment
  • LGBT National Youth Talkline: Free and confidential peer support for the LGBTQ and questioning community under 25
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week across the country
  • National Runaway Safeline: Federally designated national runaway and homeless youth crisis hotline and online service in the United States

These actions are only the first steps toward supporting LGBTQ+ students’ mental health and well-being. By creating safe spaces where students feel comfortable, validated, and supported, you can greatly improve the positive mental health of LGBTQ+ students in your school.

Learn how to support BIPOC students’ mental health by visiting part one of our Equity in Student Mental Health series: Supporting Students of Color.

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