how families & friends can support their LGBTQIA+ young people this Pride

This Pride season, headspace is encouraging families and friends of LGBTQIA+ young people to find and learn some safe and positive ways to talk about gender and sexuality.

The call to support young people coincides with the release of results from the headspace National Youth Mental Health Survey that found LGBTQIA+ young Australians are significantly less likely to seek support from their families or GP than their cisgender and heterosexual peers.

The survey found:

  • Just 64% of LGBTQIA+ young people would talk to their mother if they were having a hard time (compared to 80% of their heterosexual and cisgender young people);
  • Just two in five LGBTQIA+ young people would feel comfortable talking with their father about their problems (compared to two-thirds of straight, cis young people);
  • LGBTQIA+ respondents were less likely to reach out to another relative or family member (43%), compared to heterosexual and cisgender youth (61%), and
  • Only one-third of queer young people would ask their GP or family doctor for support (35%).

Vikki Ryall, Executive Director of Clinical Practice at headspace, says families have a major impact on the wellbeing of gender and sexually diverse young people.

“We know young people who come from families that fully support their sexuality have better overall health, mental health and higher self-esteem,” Ms Ryall said.

“On the other hand, queer young people that experience conflict with, or rejection by, their families based on their sexuality or gender identity are at higher risk of developing depression and anxiety, and at more risk of suicide and selfharm.”

“It’s important to educate yourself if you are not familiar with the experiences of LGBTQIA+ young people and learn how best to openly support your young person. This shows young people that you care and want to be there for them, as well as alleviating the burden of having to explain everything themselves.”

“One of the best things family members can do is to understand how to talk about gender and sexuality in a nonjudgemental way, and to express to young people love and support - no matter their identity.

headspace has just launched a new online content series Proud to be, which aims to celebrate LGBTQIA+ young people and their resilience.

headspace Youth National Reference Group member Holly Ellis is one of the young people featured in the series. She says coming out was difficult, even though she was confident her loved ones would offer her support.

“I remember back to when I first realised I might be gay, I felt so alone and afraid,” Holly said.

“It is very hard to gauge how someone might react to talking about your sexuality or gender identity – even if it’s someone you trust, like a family member or doctor. You don't know if you're going to be safe.”

Holly says she often turns to friends and community members for support. “It helps me a lot to look up to older LGBTQIA+ people for support, because through others’ lived experiences I’ve learned that it more possible than ever as a gay woman to find love and happiness.

“I love having a wonderful and diverse community behind my back that I can go to for support, and who I in turn can lift up and support. Most LGBTQIA+ people know what it's like to feel isolated and so we form our own found families, which I think is beautiful.”

Holly says she’s sharing her story this pride to show other same-sex attracted and gender-diverse youth the strength, diversity and creativity of their community.

“Things can and do get better,” Holly says.

“You are never, ever alone, you have a whole community behind you, and you can achieve great things. “Remember to look after yourself, and seek support if you need it. At my local headspace centre, we have a LGBTQIA+ youth group that meets regularly. This is really special to me as being a part of a community is a huge factor in improving my mental health.”

Young people, their families and friends who need extra support are encouraged to visit a headspace centre, or make contact with eheadspace online or via phone. There are resources specifically for LGBTQIA+ young people and their families on the headspace website.