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AEHS 537: Movements for Mental Health

The Agricultural and Human Sciences department would like to introduce a new monthly blog called The Student Narrative. This blog will display assignments from courses offered within the department that are completed by students. In the June blog post, we have an assignment from the AEHS 537: Human Sexuality course which was completed by YFCS Graduate Student Sandy Batchelor.

*Please note that this blog post discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is in distress, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741. You can also reach out using these free resources:

Sandy Batchelor

June 1 marked the first day of Pride Month, which is held for the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate the unique impact they’ve made on history and to continue the work for equality in the future. This month also allows a platform for LGBTQ+ people to bring awareness to the challenges they face, with mental health being a commonly voiced concern. Mental health is a significant challenge for LGBTQ+ people because of the everyday harassment, bullying, and discrimination they experience. This discrimination has long term effects, including depression, anxiety, and even suicide.

A recent survey study found that an LGBTQ+ person is at an 84% increased risk to suffer from a mental health illness compared to the non-LGBTQ+ respondent.  Common risks and diagnoses include depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. And 41% of transgender participants reported previously attempting suicide. This is compared to the 1.6% of the general population who have reported suicidal attempts. It’s obvious that LGBTQ+ individuals are targeted because of their identification and harassed to the point that they feel suicide is the only solution. 

As a certified child life specialist with a focus on mental health, I have witnessed an increase in mental health needs among adolescent patients and devastating impacts that stemmed from the patient identifying as LGBTQ+. One patient experience that still haunts me years later is a 14-year-old who was teased by his classmates. Feeling there was no escape from the discrimination, this patient was driven to the point of suicide. He set himself on fire at his middle school in front of the bully who harassed and threatened him daily. With 90% of his body burned, he was hospitalized for 288 days and voiced “hopes to die to escape the stresses of being gay.” I’m heartbroken that a person could be treated this way. There is no excuse for bullying and hatred. It’s up to us, as allies, to listen to and learn from our LGBTQ+ peers and friends to create and advocate for a change for future generations.  

Despite these statistics and stories, there is reason for hope. A recent study by The Trevor Project found that if a LGBTQ+ person has at least one accepting person in their life, their risk of suicidal ideation can be reduced by 40%. Given these statistics, we all have a role to play to reduce these risks by supporting the LGBTQ+ community and rejecting discrimination.

A meta-analytic study concluded that younger individuals are prone to additional mental illnesses stemming from discrimination tied to their sexual orientation and identification, including interpersonal rejection and victimization from family, school, and friend groups. And according to the Human Rights Campaign (2018), less than 25 states provide safety against discrimination stressors based on a person’s sexuality. This allows discriminative disadvantages in all areas for a LGBTQ+ person, including but surely not limited to education, housing, employment, extracurricular programs, and health care. 

As a child life specialist, my role is to protect, support, and empower children through their challenges and unique situations. While continuing to work with children and youth in a family science profession, I will ensure they all have access to equal opportunities and are treated with the same respect and care, regardless of their identity status. I also will raise additional awareness and advocacy for the LGBTQ+ population to stand against discrimation that leads to poor mental health outcomes. 

The desperate mental health crisis of this population are calls for help and we can’t continue ignoring it. There are many ways to build alliance with this community. Actions can be as simple as seeking education about the LGBTQ+ population or displaying a sign or wearing a shirt, badge, or sticker that brings awareness to LGBTQ+ pride and shows representation of being an ally. Other options include contributing monetarily or by volunteering for local LGBTQ+ centers or community organizations. We have to be the change to reverse the extremes of this mental illness crisis. 

Progress is being made towards equality, such as the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court to finally begin recognizing and legalizing same-sex marriages in 2015 . Still, there is much more to be done. To address the mental health crisis of LGBTQ+ youth, those of us who work with youth and families should become allies alongside the LGBTQ+ community in their fight for equality.. Every human is unique, just in different ways. Let’s be unique and in unity.