Mental health expert highlights hurdles facing LGBTQ+ youth this Pride Month

WTOP is marking Pride Month by showcasing the people, places and important issues in the LGBTQ+ communities in the D.C. area. Check back all throughout June as we share these stories, on air and online.

Rejection, bullying and discrimination are all factors that can lead to mental health challenges, such as depression and anxiety, for LGBTQ+ youth.

“Many are dealing with family rejection. So a family that doesn’t accept them won’t get them the proper interventions,” said Sarah Lawson, supervisor of youth mental health for Whitman-Walker, a health care center in D.C. This could include gender-affirming medical care and therapy.

“They’re also dealing with bullying, sometimes at school and with peers,” Lawson said.

The impact of COVID-19 has led to “compounding issues,” Lawson said, and created more need for mental health support among LGBTQ+ youth.

“How that interrupted them developmentally for any young person. And then add in that piece of not feeling gender-affirmed perhaps, or not feeling in a space to express yourself and to be with others,” Lawson said.

Without proper mental health support, there can be tragic results. According to a survey by the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ support group, LGBTQ+ youth are four times more likely to seriously consider suicide, to make a plan for suicide and to attempt suicide than their peers.

Lawson said for people without family support, there are options in D.C.

“We’re really lucky in D.C. to be able to see youth ages 13 and up without parental consent,” Lawson said.

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For those who do have the support of their families, they might struggle with being underinsured or being placed with therapists who are not right for them and may not have training or experience to care for their needs.

Lawson said family support is important and encourages parents to approach conversations with curiosity.

“Just kind of being there to support your child, saying, ‘Hey, I’ll find out more and we can be on this team together,’” Lawson said

She also encourages families to reach out and find other families who have gone through similar situations. Whitman-Walker offers a program called “Families in Transition,” which allows families to learn and grow together.

Lawson also said Pride Month, which celebrates the LGBTQ+ community, can be difficult for some members of the community.

“Pride Month is so exciting, and it’s such a time to celebrate. And it also can be an increased time of isolation, or, you know, FOMO, even for our young people who feel more isolated,” Lawson said.

But she said being a supportive adult makes all the difference in the lives of those who are struggling.

“The data is really out there that shows a young person who is supported and living authentically, supported in their gender, will have much better health, mental and physical health outcomes than those that aren’t,” Lawson said.

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Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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