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Back-to-School Mental Health Trends: How To Support BIPOC and LGBTQ+ Youth This Year

Hopelab’s Head of Research Amy Green, Ph.D Advises on The Biggest Mental Health Challenges This Year for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ Youth

Back-to-school season has historically been an exciting time for many students. Interesting classes, new teachers, and time with friends. For some, this return is especially exciting after vacillating stay-at-home and quarantine orders that have ping-ponged students from in-person to virtual learning throughout the pandemic. For others, the back-to-school season might feel extremely scary and stressful. We see signs of this, with more than 3.7 million youth (age 12-17) who reported experiencing at least one major depressive episode in the past year. The return to school poses mental health challenges that teachers and parents alike must pay attention to. 

The past few years have created looming effects on the decline in youth mental health, especially among BIPOC and LGBTQ+ youth. As the U.S. continues to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, gun safety, racially motivated attacks, and discriminatory legislation, there is growing concern from parents, educators, researchers, and policymakers that youth cannot simply adjust. Together, we must work to do more than just have conversations about these big issues. Though schools ideally provide support services and affirmation for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ youth, there is now an influx of states and schools where young people may not have access to health services they need, experience an increase in bullying, or cannot be their authentic selves. Now more than ever, it’s crucial to take a look at the challenges these young people face and proactively work to provide support systems that can combat these challenges. 

Clinical psychologist Amy Green, Ph.D., Hopelab’s Head of Research, shares her perspective on what we can expect to see this school year, along with words from Hopelab Youthlab interns, Aliza and Rose about their personal experiences and perspectives on the topic.

Four Back To School Mental Health Trends That Will Define the Year

Quote from Youthlab intern Rose

(1) BIPOC and LGBTQ+ youth will face unprecedented inequity while battling crisis-level mental health issues. Our mental health system – including schools – do not adequately address current needs. While the federal government and some individual states are beginning to direct historic funding to invest in school-based mental health, others are enacting discriminatory policies that prohibit social-emotional learning and conversations around racism, sexuality, and gender in the classroom. For example, research by GLSEN indicates that more than half (59%) of LGBTQ+ middle and high school students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 84% of transgender students felt unsafe because of their gender identity. This lack of safety can impact social, emotional, and academic well-being.

(2) Youth will continue to destigmatize mental health conversations in person and online. Mental health awareness is at an all-time high. More people are talking about their personal experiences with mental health and reaching out for help. As conversations continue to be had online, at school, in the news, or at home, we will need to ensure that the content youth are finding is accurate and can provide a pathway to accessing culturally appropriate professional services.

Quote from Youthlab intern Aliza

(3) School safety, both physical and psychological, will be an ongoing concern. The escalating frequency and severity of recent school shootings have brought even greater anxiety, hypervigilance, and feelings of panic among young people across the country. Additionally, punitive practices, experiences of racism, and anti-LGBTQ+ stigma are shaping environments where students do not feel safe or trust their schools.

(4) Without action, the broader U.S. sociopolitical context will increasingly impact youth mental health and overall wellness. Young people are already advocating for themselves and want adults to do more to create a safer world for them. Addressing student mental health goes beyond providing individual care – it will require system-level changes to their environment, including culturally appropriate training for educators and mental health systems.

With the rise in these concerning mental health trends – we’ll also see additional resources that can meet the needs of young people. 

Amy head of research quote on mental health

Three Mental Health Resources on the Rise To Support Young People

Peer support and counseling programs. These are increasing in schools and can help youth access support that they may trust more than adults in their schools.

Digital mental health tools. These tools can expand the pool of mental health providers, giving young people more access to providers who are not directly affiliated with their academic institutions and may be a better fit for their background. 

Trauma-informed care. This is highlighted across multiple initiatives in the new federal budget aimed at strengthening school-based mental health services and addressing the youth mental health crisis. Programs will address multiple sources of trauma experienced by young people (e.g., gun violence, the pandemic, adverse childhood experiences) in order to reduce or prevent long-term impacts.

It is up to all of us to be aware of and proactive about the mental health challenges that will face young people and particularly LGBTQ+ and BIPOC youth this school year. We must continue talking, sharing resources and personal experiences, and demanding for affirming, culturally and identity-appropriate care to help young people thrive as they return to school. 

Check these resources out for more information and support.

If you have more to add, we would love to hear from you.

For adult allies:

GLSEN 

Works to ensure safe schools for all students by providing education-focused programs, student groups, and resources. 

GSA Network 

Helps those looking to start a Gender and Sexualities Alliance (GSA) group for LGBTQ+ students and their allies. 

The Trevor Project 

Has resources and trainings for teachers, educators, and school personnel on allyship.  

CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH)

 Provides guidance to schools for creating safe and supportive environments for LGBTQ+ students. 

For LGBTQ+ and BIPOC youth: 

imi guide

Developed in partnership with CenterLink and the It Gets Better Project, is free, accessible to anyone, and was created with input of LGBTQ+ youth around the country. imi is a research-backed mental health tool to help LGBTQ+ teens explore and affirm their identities and cope with stress related to being LGBTQ+ in ways that are helpful, relevant, inclusive, and joyful. 

TrevorSpace

 An affirming online international community for LGBTQ+ young people ages 13-24, as well as 24/7 crisis services available by phone, text, and chat.

MindRight Health

MindRight Health provides culturally-responsive, trauma-informed mental health coaching via text message. 

Hurdle

Hurdle provides Culturally Intentional Teletherapy and respects the unique needs of everyone.


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