By Zoe Siegel, MPH, Senior Strategist, McCann Global Health
The headlines have been stark since the beginning of COVID-19 in March 2020 — our youth is suffering from a mental health crisis with increased rates of depression, suicide, substance use and anxiety. Of course, that is overwhelming and scary to admit. But acknowledging difficult truths allows us to identify the solutions — one of which is in an arm’s reach. Youth who do not feel connected to peers are more likely to feel sadness (53%) or attempt suicide (12%). A recently released CDC report, noted that 3 in 5 teenage girls felt persistent sadness in 2021 and 1 in 3 teenage girls considered attempting suicide. This insightful data indicated elevated levels of violence, depression, and suicidal thoughts among one group in particular — our LGBTQ+ youth.
The power of community can mitigate mental health problems. Community takes on a different meaning for everyone. When individuals feel part of something bigger, a community, outside of themselves, there is a sense of belonging and social connectedness.
Similarly, what we need for our mental health looks and feels different for each one of us. For some it’s talk therapy, and for others, a book club or pick-up basketball fosters that sense of community. Nevertheless, there are similar interests across population groups, and addressing those allows us to better reach and understand the most vulnerable groups.
The Trevor Project is a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ+ youth populations, offering phone, text, and chat services with trained counselors. The Trevor Project conducted a 2022 National Survey, capturing approximately 35,000 LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-24. 45% of those individuals are youth of color, while 48% identify as transgender or nonbinary. Access to support and acceptance can be determined by various social determinants of health, further exacerbating stigma against them and poor mental health. The survey notes “LGBTQ+ youth who live in a community that is accepting of LGBTQ+ people reported significantly lower rates of attempting suicide than those who do not.”
Barriers to accessing care vary, but the top three reasons cited that LGBTQ+ youth were unable to access care stem from community: a fear of discussing mental health concerns, concerns with parent/caregiver permission, and a fear of not being taken seriously by peers. These barriers apply to most youth who are struggling with mental health concerns.
It’s straightforward: Creating and fostering supportive and tightly knit communities is essential.
We have the means to encourage communal events, inclusive schools, and supportive homes. The tools are available. Healthcare companies have a role to play in that. Just like addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and other widespread diseases with access to treatment and vaccinations, mental health access and care needs to be encouraged, accessible and equitable.
Mental health is healthcare. Mental health should be a priority for all of us. There are ways to act in your community to guarantee inclusivity is the focus. Making access to community easier; cultivating kindness and acceptance is something we can do without resources, but with each other. Below are resources to share with your loved ones and community members:
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts and/or self-harm, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7368.