52 Mental Health Resources for Disabled People, POC, LGBTQ Folks, and More
“For some clients, sharing a minoritized identity with a therapist may reduce guardedness, mistrust, and self-consciousness.”
By Jeff Baker
Harvard-trained educator and therapist Jeff Baker explains why it’s important for minorities to have therapists who are part of marginalized communities.
Unfortunately, little has changed during the forty or fifty years since the mental health field first opened its doors and ivory towers to folks besides White men — starting with White women, the first historically marginalized group to attain the social access and wealth necessary to pursue advanced degrees in psychology and social work. Today, more than any other demographic, White women still predominate the field, with upward of 75% of therapists and social workers identifying as such.
On top of that, a 2015 study by the American Psychological Association, looking at U.S. pyschology workforce demographics between 2005 and 2013, found that Whites comprised 83.6% of psychologists, while representation of Black Americans stood at 5.3%, Latinx at 5%, and Asian Americans, a mere 4.3%. Native Americans were not even accounted for. I’ve also found no data, to date, on LGBTQ+ therapists, which means that queer Black therapists like me are essentially invisible in the literature on counselors and mental health professionals. This poses a huge problem for the millions of queer people of color out there, who desperately want to know if therapists like me even exist.
In fact, a 2006 study on race-matching in therapy supports this belief, suggesting that for some clients, sharing a minoritized identity with a therapist may reduce guardedness, mistrust, and self-consciousness.
Unsurprisingly, this idea gets a lot of pushback.
A number of professionals in the mental health field, much like many educators in the education field field, believe that clients from minoritized communities gain no exceptional benefits from working with therapists who share with them a certain identity or community. The presumption is that representation is only surface-deep. Yet, as a crisis counselor and therapist, I indeed experienced that commonality and representation often facilitated rapport, and resulted in a stronger therapeutic relationship with some queer clients, some Black clients, and each and every queer Black client. The converse idea that cultural competency allows one to “master” another’s culture is nothing more than speculation rooted in inconclusive evidence, bias, and quite frankly, capitalism and greed.
Even with the multiple identities and forms of oppression that I hold and encounter as a Black, LGBTQ+ person with mental illness, it’s still impossible for me to closely relate to the identity or lived experience of every single client that I meet. Moreover, if a client of any background asked me to refer them to a counselor who shared with them an identity, community or lived experience, I wouldn’t hesitate. People deserve to voice their opinions, and have their needs met. Simple as that.
To that end, seeing people get well and stay well matters more to me than who’s in front or behind of me, in this competitive rat race of a therapist market. I do this work because I want to see people thrive, not simply survive and get by. That level of integrity begins with me encouraging clients not to settle for any therapist who is not a good fit, including myself, possibly.
Still, therapists have to eat, which is why I felt compelled to raise awareness about the overlooked issue of minority therapists needing support. At community based organizations, where we sacrifice decent compensation to offer affordable care to our people, we encounter glass ceilings. On the other hand, in private practice, we come up against outdated and oppressive notions of how a “real therapist” presents: namely, an older White man, or a younger White woman. Without any reciprocity from our communities, we don’t flourish. But, most importantly — as evidenced by the numerous people who reached out — when our communities don’t know how and where to find us, the potential mutual benefit that could happen can’t happen.
Just one supportive adult cuts the chance an LGBTQ youth will attempt suicide by 40%
0ver 1.8 million young LGBTQ people considered suicide each year. Any supportive adult can make a difference – not just a parent.
A pair of reports courtesy of the Trevor Project shine a light on the importance of a supportive adult voice in the lives of LGBTQ youth: just having at least one accepting adult in their lives reduced the chance of a suicide attempt by an LGBTQ youth by 40 percent.
While past studies have focused on the importance of parents who accept their LGBTQ children, this new report goes father, finding out that any supportive adult can make a difference.
A total of 34,808 youth took part in the survey, with 25,896 included in the final sample. Of these, 20,202 had disclosed their orientation to their patents, a different family member, a teacher or guidance counselor, or a doctor or healthcare provider.
A follow-up asked how much they were accepted by those they had disclosed their sexual or gender orientation to. This was then compared to these same subject’s suicide attempts or suicidal ideation in the past year.
Just over 27% reported who did not have a supportive adult in their live reported an attempted suicide in the last year, compared to just 17% among those who did have adult acceptance.
This support is important, too: the Trevor Project also found that over 1.8 million LGBTQ people ages 13-24 considered suicide each year. Most of those — 1.2 million — are just between the ages of 13-18.
According to the Trevor Project, suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst young people, and LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to consider, plan for, and attempt suicide than their non-LGBTQ peers.
The project points to minority stress — that is, stressors faced by members of minority groups — as a leading cause for the high suicide rate. They recommend more research into ways adults can effectively reach out and help LGBTQ youth to lessen the effects of minority stress.
If you need help from The Trevor Project, call 1-866-488-7386, text 678678, or visit their website for additional options.
Transgender Young People Are More Often Diagnosed With Mental Illnesses, Research Shows
“We have … young people learning how to be themselves in a culture that encourages them not to.”
We know that transgender and gender non-conforming people are at an increased risk of many things, including discrimination and violence. And the same is true for transgender and gender non-conforming young people. Past research has shown that this bias can lead to higher rates of mental illness among transgender students compared to their cisgender peers.
A new Kaiser Permanente study takes a sweeping look at the issue, examining data from a large cohort of youth ages 3 to 17. And what the researchers found only confirms previous analyses: Transgender children are more frequently diagnosed with mental health conditions than their peers.
“Transgender and non-binary youth are much more likely to face mistreatment at home, in schools, in public settings, and at the doctor’s office than their cisgender peers,” Dr. Alex Keuroghlian, director of the National LGBT Health Education Center at the Fenway Institute, and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts, told Teen Vogue.
This external stigma-related stress — what Keuroghlian refers to as “gender minority stress” — “can make it harder to cope with life challenges, regulate emotions, and build trusting relationships,” he said.
The study, published this month in the journal Pediatrics, looked at eight years worth of health records from more than 1,300 transgender and gender non-conforming youth, and discovered that young transgender people are more likely to have depressive disorder than their cisgender counterparts.
Experts say these statistics aren’t surprising, given that other research had returned similar numbers. But it’s nonetheless “an important study highlighting the mental health disparities experienced by transgender and non-binary youth,” Keuroghlian told Teen Vogue.
These disparities are only made worse by inaccessible and unaffordable care, experts say. Often, transgender and gender non conforming youth can be shut out from using mental health services because of confluence of barriers, including stigma, poverty, being uninsured or underinsured, familial rejection, limited transportation, sexism and racism.
“A lack of access to care results in transgender and gender non-binary youth having worse physical and mental health outcomes than their cisgender peers,” Keuroghlian said. “This can also then adversely impact opportunities to thrive in school, at work, and in personal relationships.”
Still, even if a transgender teen is able to access mental health services, that doesn’t mean that care is guaranteed to be meaningful or effective. Findings shows that many mental health care providers lack formal training in trans-affirmative care, and may avoid conversations around sexuality and gender — as well as discrimination and marginalization — when working with transgender or gender nonconforming youth.
And that dearth in accessible affirmative therapy can cause real damage to a transgender teen in need of help, experts say.
“The harm of not having access to a trans competent therapist is that kids are misdiagnosed and they get hurt, and they continue to be invisible,” Damon Constantinides, a Philadelphia-based therapist and clinical social worker who works with transgender and gender nonconforming youth and adults, told Teen Vogue.
“I think about this a lot from an attachment perspective,” he said. “We are who we are by our reflection through other people. When a trans kid doesn’t get that reflected back, they’re not getting to be themselves or see themselves. It’s an ongoing trauma, a microaggression.”
These repeated traumas, and the mistreatment Keuroghlian referenced, may be one reason why young transgender people are at an increased risk of mental illness. Constantinides told Teen Vogue that as long as transgender and gender non-conforming people are seen as different, they will likely continue experiencing increased rates of mental illness
“I think that these numbers aren’t going to look different until we live in a culture that recognizes transgender and gender non-conforming people as normal,” Constantinides said. “Normal is a loaded word, and I use it purposely. When I did my own research about the experience that gender non-conforming trans folks had at the intersection of their gender identity, sexual desire, and sexual behavior, a feeling of otherness trumped any other conversation. And we know, the experience of stigma causes health problems including but not limited to mental health.”
Limited research exists that digs into how often transgender and gender nonconforming youth are misdiagnosed or mistreated for conditions that aren’t actually present. But experts say the problem is far more pervasive among poorly trained mental health providers than could be quantified. That’s because, as a 2010 paper in the Inquiries Journal notes, a therapist may take years to pinpoint the actual cause of a transgender teen’s symptoms. Or they may never identify the source in the first place.
For example, the Kaiser Permanente study also found that attention deficit disorder diagnoses are higher among transgender and gender nonconforming children than their cisgender peers. But lead author Dr. Tracy Becerra-Culqui, a Kaiser researcher, questioned whether some of those diagnoses are even accurate.
“These kids may have problem behaviors because of whatever adversity they’re going through,” Becerra-Culqui told Teen Vogue.
Among some of the so-called problem behaviors that may yield the diagnosis : Poor academic performance, difficulty remaining focused, and constant fidgeting. But, when it comes to transgender adolescents, a study published in 2013 in the Journal of School Violence found that some of those symptoms could be the result of a hostile school environment where students are bullied and assaulted because of their perceived gender identity.
“How well do you think you’re going to do in school if you never feel like people actually know who you are,” Constantinides said, “where you’re actively having to hide yourself.”