As the country recovers from a nailbiter of an election, I was jolted back to reality by — of all things — a commercial. A shiny, silver chocolate drop is conducting a chorus of bright and festive red and green chocolate drops in “We Wish you a Merry Christmas.”
“My goodness,” I thought to myself, “It’s the holiday season.”
While the very familiar chime of that more than three-decades-old commercial may make some people nostalgic, others are struggling, especially during a pandemic which may have cut them off from their usual support systems.
A majority of LGBTQ+ youth — who already face a litany of health disparities — reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression amid the pandemic, according to a recent national poll that surveyed 1,200 young people between the ages of 13–24. The poll took place in late July and included 600 LGBTQ+ young people and 600 of their non-LGBTQ+ peers.
Of the LGBTQ+ young people polled, 41% of them said COVID-19 impacted their ability to express their true identity. That number increased to more than 50% among transgender and non-binary youth.
The poll also found that LGBTQ+ youth — one in four — were less likely to have access to mental health care than their peers.
When the pandemic forced many people to stay at home earlier this year, it led to many LGBTQ+ young people being forced into unsupportive households and were inevitably cut off from support systems they had created for themselves in their education physical environments.
For those who discovered their true selves while in those supportive circles, having to return to restrictive environments essentially forced these young people back into the closet.
However, there are ways students and young people can deal with this stress including connecting online with other LGBTQ+ individuals, avoiding difficult conversations with family during the pandemic, and maintaining healthy physical and mental well-being habits.
Organizations that want to provide tools for resilience to LGBTQ youth can use the Teen Mental Health Toolkit created by #Out4MentalHealth.
Middle and high schools that hosted in-person GSA clubs — student-run organizations that unite LGBTQ+ and allied youth — should be taken to the virtual realm. The GSA Network is conducting trainings and workshops during the pandemic on how to host virtual weekly meetings. Having that safe space could allow LGBTQ+ students to connect with other LGBTQ+ peers and allies which can be beneficial for young people living in a hostile home environment.
Here in California, young people age 12 and older can consent to counseling, therapy and drug treatment without a parent’s permission.
Educators and health care providers must do a better job of letting young people know they have that right. Allowing them to have control of their own mental health can go a very long way.