(WHTM) — The mental health of children and teens is a growing concern, especially in the LGBTQ community. Transgender and nonbinary kids have especially high rates of anxiety, depression and suicide.
“Growing up in Central Pennsylvania as a very closeted youth was difficult,” Minnie Nguyen said.
It was not just difficult. For Nguyen, growing up nonbinary, someone who does not identify with either the male or female gender, in Lancaster, was complicated.
“I grew up Asian, so there’s already a cultural component there. I grew up in the Catholic Church, so there’s another religious layer,” she said.
It could also be scary.
“My whole life has just been dictated by fear,” Nguyen said. “The fear of being myself, the fear of being a ‘sinner.'”
Nguyen is open about her identity now, but as a child, her mental health suffered and it still affects her.
“I live with some pretty severe suicidal ideation,” she said, adding she is candid about her mental health struggles. “Growing up, I was hospitalized a couple of times and later in adulthood, also hospitalized again.”
Nguyen is not alone. According to the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ suicide prevention organization, half of transgender and nonbinary young people seriously considered attempting suicide in the last year. Nearly one in five attempted it.
“This first and foremost really should be seen as a public health crisis,” Dr. Kristen Eckstrand, UPMC’s medical director for LGBTQIA+ health quality. “You really don’t see rates like this in other groups.”
Eckstrand said kids are reporting more harassment. A Trevor Project survey found over 60 percent of trans and nonbinary youth say they have felt discriminated against because of their gender identity. Nearly a third said they have been threatened or harmed.
“When that conflict is occurring both at the family level, at the friend level, at the social level, you know, it is very hard for kids to get a break,” Eckstrand said. “There’s really no safe space for kids where they can sort of say I can be myself.”
That can be difficult to carry.
“All of those add up as stressors and traumas that weigh on mental health,” said Cassie Ellison, a therapist at the Lancaster LGBTQ+ Coalition.
Ellison said with her patients, she encourages them to look at both the positives and negatives. The main goal, she said, is finding hope.
“The main factor that people see that leads to suicidality is a lack of hope,” she said.
Other factors do play a role like support at home and at school.
“The number one thing is having parents who support you,” Eckstrand said.
However, as the transgender community has become a political flashpoint, finding that hope is often easier said than done.
“The hardest part for me, even today, is trying to find hope when you feel like the world is against you,” Nguyen said.
It is possible. Nguyen said it is the little things get her through.
“I find a lot of hope and strength in my community,” she said. “Like when I go to the store and I make eye contact with somebody else who’s also trans, and we just have this moment of knowing, that gives me a lot of hope.”
That can make all the difference.
“I don’t care how little it seems, I don’t care how ‘stupid’ it seems, any reason to keep going is worth it because you’re worth it,” Ellison said.