Adolescents who identify as any of the more than 100 gender identities or the more than 100 sexual orientations often feel lonely and marginalized. When they are seeking help for addiction or mental health issues, they are looking to you for affirmation and support. One of the most important ways that you can meet their needs is to educate yourself about LGBTQIA+ issues and use best practices when working with all of your clients. Learning to be respectful and not make assumptions about anyone will improve your ability to interact with all people.
Learning How to Support LGBTQIA+ Youth
Offering support for adolescents in the LGBTQIA+ community does not take a degree or extensive education. Support looks like being open-minded and willing to listen and learn about what other people are going through. If you yourself do not have personal knowledge about the gender identity, sexual orientation, or issue that one of your clients is facing, you can always ask your client to share their experiences and listen with an open mind, asking genuine questions if necessary.
There is also plenty of great information online about what it is like for queer teens, the issues they are facing, and how to support them. The Trevor Project is a well-known organization that offers support for the LGBTQIA+ community. They also provide information on their website for being an ally or offering support to youth of various sexual orientations and gender identities.
For professionals treating adolescents with addiction or mental health diagnoses, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) offers LGBTQIA+ specific resources and curricula that can help you when working with these populations. SAMHSA also provides important resources on subjects such as affirming LGBTQIA+ youth and ending damaging practices such as conversion therapy.
Why Support of LGBTQIA+ Adolescents Matters
Adolescents who are queer sometimes face astronomical rates of negative stigma, discrimination, and a lack of basic rights. According to a 2020 report by HealthyPeople.gov, this discrimination is associated with much higher rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, and suicide within the LGBTQIA+ population. Many teens have little to no support in their lives from adults for their gender identity or sexual orientation, whether it be family, educators, or other people with whom they interact. Offering support to teens within this population not only helps improve their health outcomes but can even save lives.
The Affirmation of Using Preferred Pronouns
One of the easiest ways to offer support is to use preferred pronouns when working with LGBTQIA+ youth. It is important not to make assumptions based on the assigned gender on a birth certificate or someone’s appearance about who they are or who they are attracted to.
A simple way to learn a person’s preferred pronouns is to introduce yourself using your own pronouns, which allows them to introduce themselves and share their pronouns with you. You can also simply ask them what their pronouns are. Most queer adolescents are grateful to be acknowledged and have the opportunity to identify themselves. This is a simple sign of respect and a demonstration of your affirmation of who they are as a person.
Why Labels and Pronouns Matter for LGBTQIA+ Teens
In 2019, the Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health determined more than 100 different sexual orientations and more than 100 different gender identities. That can be a lot to keep up with, but these labels are important to these teens because they can help them express who they are and find others they identify with.
Being queer in a cisgender world is difficult enough, but labels and pronouns give teens something tangible to establish their identity with themselves and others. These words may not mean much to you, but they can mean everything to those who do not feel like they fit the mold of expectations society places on them. Your willingness to use these terms confirms to them that they matter as a human being.
Building Trust by Respecting Identity and Orientation
Being open and accepting immediately with all of your clients, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, is key to building a relationship of trust. Making any assumptions about who they are or who they are attracted to can permanently affect their ability to trust you. To be effective in your treatment of addiction or mental health, you need to build that trust. By educating yourself about LGBTQIA+ issues and being willing to listen with non-judgment from day one, you will leave that opportunity to build a relationship of trust open. Your support for them can be not only life-changing but also life-saving. Being willing to listen and learn and grow with your clients can also help improve your understanding and compassion as a provider and human being.
LGBTQIA+ adolescents face incredible amounts of stigma and discrimination, which can lead to increased instances of mental health and substance use disorders as well as much higher rates of both suicide and suicide attempts. Your willingness to educate yourself and affirm their gender identities and sexual orientation is support that can be life-affirming and even life-saving. At Sustain Recovery, we support teens with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. We understand the significance of these diagnoses within the LGBTQIA+ population. Our extended residential program in Irvine, California offers teens the opportunity to heal and transition back home gradually and more effectively. We help connect our teens to continued support in their community after treatment, especially for those in the LGBTQIA+ community. Contact Sustain today at (949) 407-9052 to find out if our program is a good fit for your client.