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From Crisis to Compassion: Bridging Mental Health Disparities in LGBTQIA+ Youth

From Crisis to Compassion: Bridging Mental Health Disparities in LGBTQIA+ Youth

Last week, we discussed Pride Month from the perspective of health equity in the LGBTQIA+ community. In our first Guest Blog post by Haylin Dennison, a mental health expert who specializes in supporting LGBTQIA+ youth.  She provides perspectives on the mental health disparities faced by this population based on her experiences.

The U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory in December 2021 highlighting the urgent need to address our nation‚Äôs ongoing youth mental health crisis which has been significantly expanded by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Amer¬≠i¬≠can Acad¬≠e¬≠my of Pedi¬≠atrics, Amer¬≠i¬≠can Acad¬≠e¬≠my of Child and Ado¬≠les¬≠cent Psy¬≠chi¬≠a¬≠try and Children‚Äôs Hos¬≠pi¬≠tal Asso¬≠ci¬≠a¬≠tion recent¬≠ly declared a Nation¬≠al State of Emer¬≠gency in Children‚Äôs Men¬≠tal Health.

It's alarming and deeply unsettling that suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people aged between 10 and 24 in the US, with a significantly increased risk within the LGBTQ community. Our LGBTQ youth, who are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their non-LGBTQ peers, are crying out for our help, our understanding, and our acceptance.

Every 45 seconds, an LGBTQ youth is driven to attempt suicide in the United States. These are not just statistics; these are our children, friends, neighbors, and community. In the past year alone, nearly half of all LGBTQ youth seriously considered taking their own lives. For transgender and nonbinary youth, this proportion increases. In Hawaii specifically, suicide is the number one leading cause of death for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders ages 15-24. Furthermore, 50% of all non-binary and trans youth in Hawaii attempted suicide in the past year. This paints a heartbreaking reality that requires our immediate attention and action.

Our society often inadvertently isolates these young individuals by denying them the affirming spaces they need to flourish. Only about half of LGBTQ youth report their schools as being LGBTQ-friendly, and merely a third find affirmation at home. These figures are even lower for transgender and nonbinary youth.

Yet, there is hope. The presence of just one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt by 40%. Peer-reviewed research has highlighted the power of acceptance, showing that transgender and nonbinary youth experiencing acceptance had considerably lower odds of attempting suicide. The concept of the "family buffer" is an important one, especially in the context of the LGBTQ+ community. It emphasizes the heightened level of support that families need to provide for their LGBTQ+ members in response to the discrimination and bias these individuals often face outside the home. By nurturing an environment of acceptance, understanding, and encouragement within the family, this "buffer" acts as a protective barrier against negative societal influences, thereby fostering improved mental health and resilience within the LGBTQ+ individual. The warm embrace of family and community support can cut suicide attempt rates by half, demonstrating that acceptance and support can, quite literally, save lives.

This emphasizes the importance of nurturing affirming spaces, especially within our schools, which act as a second home for many children. Trusted adults, supportive peers, and extracurricular activities such as Spill The Tea Cafe and Gender and Sexualities Alliances can all serve as protective factors against depression and promote self-esteem.

Our call to action is to step up, create a society where acceptance is the norm, and build spaces that affirm and celebrate diversity. As mental health clinicians, educators, parents, and community members, we can make a life-changing and, indeed, life-saving difference for our LGBTQ youth.


About Haylin 2edcc31-b88b-77b0-ff7-c8a65aa78743_3d88122c-4570-4e19-b0b8-9be1f8cedcc0

Haylin Dennison, LCSW, a dedicated Licensed Therapist and proud mother of four, originates from the vibrant shores of Honolulu, Hawaii, and received her training from the esteemed University of Southern California in Los Angeles. With a profound commitment to serving the LGBTQIA+ community, she specializes in adolescent mental health, with a particular emphasis on suicide prevention and crisis intervention for LGBTQIA+ youth.

SPILL THE TEA-1Her profound connection to the LGBTQIA+ community is not just professional but deeply personal. As the mother of a transgender child, she's journeyed the path of learning, acceptance, and advocacy firsthand. This journey not only tested her resilience and transformed her family, but also deeply enriched her therapeutic approach. It empowered her with a profound understanding of the complex struggles faced by the LGBTQIA+ community.


In 2022, she and her son founded "Spill The Tea Cafe," a Teen Wellness Center specializing in trauma-informed care for LGBTQIA+ youth. This 501c3 establishment represents her unwavering passion for adolescent mental health and her steadfast advocacy for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Connect with her: 




Hedegaard, H., Curtin, S. C., & Warner, M. (2018). Suicide Rates in the United States Continue to Increase. NCHS Data Brief, 330. (link)

Johns MM, Lowry R, Andrzejewski J, et al. Transgender Identity and Experiences of Violence Victimization, Substance Use, Suicide Risk, and Sexual Risk Behaviors Among High School Students‚ÄĒ19 States and Large Urban School Districts, 2017. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2019;68(3):67-71. (link)

Johns MM, Lowry R, Rasberry CN, et al. LGBTQ-inclusive curricula and school climate are associated with lower student-level homophobic bullying victimization. J Adolesc Health. 2020;66(6):S49-S56.

The Trevor Project. (n.d.). Facts About Suicide. (link)

Family Support and Mental Health Among Transgender and Nonbinary Youth: A Retrospective Analysis of the California Health Interview Survey. Transgender Health 2021;6(1):1-7.

Dessel AB, Meens LD, Sliwinski SK, et al. How Can School Social Workers Enhance Transgender Youth Supports? A Systematic Review. Child Sch, 2017;39(1):51-61.

Eccles JS, Barber BL, Stone M, Hunt J. Extracurricular activities and Adolescent Development. J Soc Issues. 2003;59(4):865-889. (link)

Toomey RB, Ryan C, Diaz RM, Russell ST. High School Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) and Young Adult Well-Being: An Examination of GSA Presence, Participation, and Perceived Effectiveness. Appl Dev Sci. 2011;15(4):175-185. (link)


How do you consider the LGBTQIA+ patient population in the healthcare brand development process? We strongly believe that health equity can be integral to an overall value and access strategy.


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