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OHS Observer

Stanford Online High School's student run news site

OHS Observer

Stanford Online High School's student run news site

OHS Observer

How To Support an LGBTQIA+ Friend

Gay-Straight Alliance meetings are a great way for young members of the LGBTQIA+ community to build healthy support systems. (them.us)
Gay-Straight Alliance meetings are a great way for young members of the LGBTQIA+ community to build healthy support systems. (them.us)

“A lot of research out there that suggests that LGBTQIA+ youth tend to experience mental health issues such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation at a higher rate than their straight, cis-gendered peers. This can lead a lot of people to the incorrect conclusion that mental health struggles must just be a part of the LGBTQIA+ package, which is simply not the case,” says Taylor Kreider, Academic Counselor and mental health professional.

While genetics plays a large role in mental health, our environment is just as big of a factor. Kreider says that while there is no definitive answer to what proportion of mental health struggles arise from nature as opposed to nurture, “genetics give us a variety of blueprints of what we could become, and our environment shapes which blueprint we end up using.”

Research suggests that the strongest protective factor for youth is having one trusted, supportive adult present in their lives. Just one! That’s all it takes to make a significant difference.

— Taylor Krieder

What else could cause this discrepancy between the emotional struggles of LGBTQIA+ adolescents and their peers? It is very likely the lack of supportive environment that exacerbates feelings of loneliness or mental health disorders. Kreider says, “When youth have access to safe spaces and feel supported and accepted by their communities, those symptoms are likely to greatly reduce or even disappear completely, so the negative impact of an unaccepting family can be significant, especially when these youth feel like they have nowhere else to turn.”

No one likes to see their friend struggle. But for those of us who aren’t mental health professionals, helping an LGBTQIA+ friend through mental health issues seems daunting. So what should you do to support a friend during tumultuous times?

“Research suggests that the strongest protective factor for youth is having one trusted, supportive adult present in their lives. Just one! That’s all it takes to make a significant difference,” Kreider says.

As a fellow student, you can remind a friend of how their school’s mental health staff is there to help them. Kreider’s approach to helping students struggling with these issues is to make her counseling office as welcoming and judgment free as possible. You can apply these same principles when helping out by communicating how much you care for your friend, and how you will always accept them. In communicating these ideas and being kind and patient, you create a space with a judgment-free atmosphere where your friend can be themself.

You can let your friend know that you support them through not only your words, but also your actions. For example, you can encourage your friend to attend a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) meeting, and you can attend with them so they feel supported and safe. Kreider says, “I cannot speak highly enough of GSA clubs and the sense of community that they built for all their members.” Maybe your friend is a little nervous about attending a GSA meeting if they’ve never been before. Seeing a friendly face there would surely make them feel safer, which is why it’s a great idea for you to attend as well.

Even as you support your friend, it’s important to maintain healthy boundaries and to avoid becoming a “therapist friend,” so that you don’t take on too much of a friend’s stress. After all, if your mental health is dwindling, you likely won’t be much help to a struggling friend. When someone comes to you asking for help on something very serious, or something that you don’t know how to help with, the most beneficial thing you can do for both of you is to connect them with an adult or professional resources that are qualified to provide mental health support.

Even as you support your friend, it’s important to maintain healthy boundaries and to avoid becoming a ‘therapist friend,’ so that you don’t take on too much of a friend’s stress.

— Taylor Kreider

Kreider says, “I’ve met a lot of students who proudly self-identify as the “therapist friend” of their group and that can be really dangerous. It is such a good thing to be someone your friends can trust and rely on, but there are limits to the support you can give as a friend. Additionally, more often than not, playing this role can have an impact on your own mental health. The bigger the support network, the better – for everyone!”

The most important thing to do when a friend is struggling with their mental health, especially if it is connected to feeling unwelcomed because of their identity, is to let them know that you love them no matter what, and be there to listen.

Kreider says, “What we do know for sure is that the more an environment allows for people to express themselves, make mistakes, and lean on and lift up their community, the better the mental health outcomes, regardless of your genetics or circumstance.”

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