Adolescence is a pivotal stage in life, marked by discoveries and self-exploration. For many, it's also the period where they come to terms with their sexuality or gender identity. Recognising and supporting LGBTQ+ adolescents is crucial, as they often face unique challenges that can affect their physical and mental health.
The term LGBTQ+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, with the '+' denoting other sexual orientations, gender identities, and expressions.
Understanding begins with:
Education: It is necessary to familiarise yourself with the terminologies and various aspects of the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
Empathy: Realise that every individual's journey is unique. Avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. Be empathetic and provide support.
Avoiding stereotypes: Gender and sexuality are complex. Avoid categorising or expecting individuals to fit into specific moulds.
LGBTQ+ teens might encounter several challenges:
Acceptance: Not all families or communities are accepting, leading to feelings of isolation or rejection. Many of them develop low self-esteem and low self-confidence.
Avoid being judgmental. Many parents find it difficult to accept and remain in a state of denial, refusing to acknowledge the situation, to the extent of breaking their relations with their child. This affects the adolescent emotionally and mentally and may lead to depression, anxiety, poor academic performance.
Bullying and harassment: Many LGBTQ+ teens experience bullying, leading to mental health challenges like anxiety, depression, and even suicidal tendencies.
Identity struggles: Coming to terms with one's sexuality or gender identity can be an internal struggle, especially in unsupportive environments.
Health disparities: LGBTQ+ teens may face specific health challenges, including increased risks of STIs, substance abuse, or mental health issues.
Here are some essential strategies to help LGBTQ+ adolescents:
Safe environment: Create a non-judgmental space for them, at school or college. Medical centres and restaurants should display LGBTQ+-friendly signs, symbols, or literature.
Parents play a very important role in providing support.
Informed medical care: Be aware of the unique health needs of LGBTQ+ teens. Regular check-ups, mental health support, and counselling about safe practices are vital.
Active listening: Often, they just need someone to talk to. Avoid interrupting or jumping to give advice—just listen. Be empathetic and provide support.
Affirmation: Reinforce that there's nothing 'wrong' with them. Their feelings and experiences are valid. This helps to build up their self-esteem.
Referrals: If needed, refer them to LGBTQ+-specific counselling, support groups, or other relevant resources.
Support shouldn't end at the doctor's office. A community's role is of vital importance.
Schools should foster inclusivity. Educate students about LGBTQ+ issues, have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, and provide counselling services.
Parents and guardians must educate themselves and create a supportive home environment. Understanding and accepting your child can make a world of difference.
Peers can be allies. An LGBTQ+ teen's school experience can be significantly enhanced by speaking out against bullying and demonstrating unity.
Understanding and supporting LGBTQ+ adolescents is a collective effort. They ought to have the same opportunity, affection, and respect as their friends. With acceptance and education, we can make our communities safer, healthier, and more inclusive for everyone.
Dr. Paula Goel is a paediatrician and adolescent specialist at Fayth Clinic