As the novel coronavirus pandemic has developed over the last several months, organizations both big and small have been affected by its impact. Between The Lines caught up with Rob Todaro, the press secretary of The Trevor Project — a national organization that fights to prevent suicide in LGBTQ youth under 25 — to learn more about what it’s doing to adapt its services to aid the community and to address the unique vulnerabilities faced by LGBTQ youth during the pandemic.
Have the services that the Trevor Project provides been in greater demand since the pandemic began?
Since the onset of COVID-19, the volume of youth reaching out to our crisis services for support has increased significantly — at times nearly double our pre-COVID volume. And LGBTQ youth continue to report a range of emotions, including feelings of isolation and loneliness, anxiety about the future, economic insecurity and fears around having or getting COVID-19.
What makes LGBTQ youth particularly vulnerable right now?
In early April, The Trevor Project released a white paper on how LGBTQ youth may be particularly vulnerable to negative mental health impacts associated with COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, LGBTQ youth have been found to be at significantly increased risk for depression, anxiety, and attempting suicide — largely due to increased experiences of victimization. Additionally, LGBTQ youth already faced disproportionate rates of unemployment and homelessness, which are among the most consistent risk factors for suicide.
A June 2020 study, the first to specifically examine the experiences of LGBTQ youth during the pandemic, confirmed what we had posited in our white paper: many LGBTQ youth no longer have access to their usual support systems and some are now isolated in unaccepting home environments. Furthermore, CDC data released last month found that over a quarter of youth ages 18 to 24 seriously considered suicide in June. That data was not segmented by sexual orientation or gender identity, but we know from past CDC data that LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their straight/cisgender peers.
The widespread anxiety, physical distancing and economic strain caused by COVID-19 have the potential to exacerbate existing mental health challenges and create new, unique problems for many LGBTQ young people.
How might LGBTQ youth be affected by missing out on meeting in person for school?
As a result of school closures, many young people have less access to friends, peers and supportive adults. We know based on the work we do every day that positive social connections are vital for suicide prevention, as they buffer stress, reduce depression, and improve well-being. For many LGBTQ youth, school might be their one safe space and source of affirming community. According to The Trevor Project’s research, LGBTQ young people who report having at least one accepting adult were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year. For some, that accepting person could be a teacher, coach, or school counselor.
It is imperative that school officials specifically consider the unique needs of LGBTQ students and do all they can to maintain positive social connections as long as this pandemic persists. For example, if classes are taking place online, mental health counseling, office hours and extracurricular activities should be made available online as well. We must do all we can to continue to provide LGBTQ youth with safe environments where they can feel empowered, socialize, and receive support and affirmation.
Are there any sub-groups within the community of LGBTQ youth that are at greatest risk?
According to a recent peer-reviewed journal article published by The Trevor Project, transgender and nonbinary youth are particularly vulnerable to poor mental health outcomes and suicide risk compared to their cisgender peers within the LGBTQ community. When accounting for age, family income and youth race/ethnicity, transgender and nonbinary youth were two to 2 1/2 times as likely to experience depressive symptoms, seriously consider suicide and attempt suicide compared to their cisgender lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and questioning peers.
Furthermore, The Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 52% of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past twelve months, compared to 34% of cisgender LGBTQ youth.
How is the Trevor Project aiding youth at this unprecedented time?
The Trevor Project’s trained counselors are here for LGBTQ youth 24/7. And we’ve been telling LGBTQ youth:
- Do all you can to stay connected with your friends, family or chosen family.
- Try using the Internet to find affirming community online, like TrevorSpace — Trevor’s safe space social networking site where you can connect with other LGBTQ young people who might be going through similar experiences.
- Set aside time each day to engage in self-care and wellness activities that will positively impact your mental and physical health.
The Trevor Project has also been actively advocating for LGBTQ-inclusive data collection on the national level as a means to better inform our healthcare system’s response programs, mental health resources, and nationwide crisis intervention efforts. We simply don’t know how many LGBTQ people have been infected and died from COVID-19 (or by suicide) because that data is not collected systematically nationwide.
What can an adult — or anyone — do if they know a youth who is unable to leave a dangerous living situation due to quarantining?
If you are in direct contact with an LGBTQ young person who finds themselves in an environment that does not affirm their identity or places them at risk for abuse and victimization, you should start by asking them directly about whether or not they feel safe and supported in their current living situation. Efforts to proactively support youth can help you recognize warning signs of danger, while also helping youth problem-solve to promote physical and emotional safety.
If you ever observe signs of potential abuse and domestic violence, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or your state’s child abuse and neglect hotline.
If you know an LGBTQ young person who is considering suicide or simply needs to talk to someone, please connect them with The Trevor Project via our 24/7 phone lifeline, text, or chat.
In addition to COVID, are you hearing from LGBTQ youth who feel stress related to the upcoming election? If so, please elaborate.
According to The Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey, 86% of LGBTQ youth said that recent politics have negatively impacted their well-being.
So we know that LGBTQ young people are listening — and the negative rhetoric, including anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, that they hear is having a real impact on their mental health.
Find out more information about The Trevor Project online at thetrevorproject.org.