Aspirus: How to help LGBTQ youth stay healthy

For the Tomahawk Leader

WISCONSIN – Aspirus Health recently provided information on how to ensure LGBTQ youth feel supported and stay healthy.

Aspirus said LGBTQ youth are at increased risk for a number of health problems due to stigma, bigotry and other factors.

“These problems can follow kids into adulthood,” Aspirus stated. “Fortunately, supportive parents and families can help LGBTQ kids live healthy and happy lives. LGBTQ youth who feel valued by their parents are less likely to experience depression, attempt suicide, use drugs and alcohol or get a sexually transmitted disease.”

Bombard. Photo courtesy of Aspirus.

“Supporting LGBTQ children is crucial for their well-being and overall development, and this really starts at home,” said Jason Bombard, DO, psychiatrist and Specialty Medical Director at Aspirus Behavioral Health. “Parents have a responsibility to create a safe and non-judgmental space for their child to express themselves. Encourage open and honest conversations, but most importantly, remind them regularly of your love and acceptance of who they are.”

Aspirus provided examples of some of the health concerns often faced by LGBTQ youth and tips for how parents can help, sourced from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Partnership to End Addiction, The Trevor Project and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).

Bullying at school

LGBTQ students are much more likely to be bullied at school than are their non-LGBTQ peers, Aspirus said.

How to help: Don’t minimize the bullying. Instead, stand up for your child. Report the problem to the school’s administrators. Let them know you won’t tolerate your child being bullied and ask them to come up with a plan to stop it.

Mental health concerns

LGBTQ youth are more likely to report having felt sad or hopeless, and more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers, according to The Trevor Project.

How to help: Let your child know they can talk to you about anything. Be on the lookout for red flags, such as:

  • Excessive sleeping, difficulty sleeping and other sleep disorders
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Loss of interest in favorite pastimes
  • Sudden decline in academic performance
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Personality shifts and changes

“If you spot any of these signs, ask your child’s provider to refer you to a behavioral health specialist,” Aspirus stated.

Sexual abuse

Aspirus said LGBTQ youth are more likely than their non-LGBTQ peers to experience sexual assault.

How to help: Start talking to your kids at a young age about safe touching, and let them know it’s OK to say “no.” Let them know they can always talk to you, especially if it’s something they’ve been told to keep secret. As your child gets older, have open, honest conversations about sex. Talk with them about how to avoid risky behavior and unsafe situations.

Substance abuse

LGBTQ youth are more likely than their non-LGBTQ peers to use alcohol and other drugs – including prescription opioids, according to Aspirus.

How to help: Research suggests that this risk decreases in kids whose parents accept their LGBTQ identity. Family support of a child’s LGBTQ identity also helps the child better withstand other sources of stress, such as school bullying.

“Ways you can offer support include inviting your child’s LGBTQ friends to join family activities and taking your child to LGBTQ events,” Aspirus stated. “You can also help your child find a local LGBTQ youth group, preferably one that takes a strong stance against substance abuse.”

“Remember that supporting your LGBTQ child is an ongoing process,” Bombard stated. “Continuously educate yourself, adapt to their needs and ensure that your love and support are unwavering.”

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