As social justice and equality continue to be devalued by legislation in the U.S., Mental Health Awareness Month in May comes at no better time. The disproportionate stressors on the LGBTQ community are only augmented by higher risks of depression, suicide, and anxiety, as well as facing harassment and assault at school. The lack of support from the government is a grave insult to the so-called values of equality, humanitarianism, and individuality that the U.S. holds so dear.
Today, our culture overall might be more welcoming, accepting, and supportive of young LGTBQ folk, but bills like the Don’t Say Gay Bill in Florida call into question whether or not government officials can truly be serving the people if there are populations they continue to neglect. Currently, over 469 anti-LGBTQ bills are being pushed in state legislatures and tracked by the ACLU.
Psychological and empirical research done by the Trevor Project and GLAAD continue to reinforce what we already know. One in four Black transgender and nonbinary young people report suicide attempts in the past year in 2023. Some social stigmas are unique stressors to the queer community. Queer people may grow up in a community that lacks affirmation for who they are and feel less than their straight, cis peers because of it.
But while many organizations are working on providing safe spaces for talking and counseling for LGBTQ people, there are other projects just as valuable and critical in ensuring the LGBTQ community finds helpful resources outside of therapy. For instance, the Confess Project of America started in 2016 with the goal of equipping marginalized Black men with mental health strategies to help them. One of the programs called Beyond the Shop was created by the Confess Project with the goal of training barbers to become mental health advocates. Even while getting a haircut, people are able to comfortably talk about their struggles and build a community that bridges the gaps in unmet mental health needs. The project focuses on helping Black men and highlight how systemic racial discrimination inevitably extends to all aspects of life – from jobs to gender inequality to LGBTQ issues.
Therapy does not always work. People aren’t often willing to talk about mental health and how it connects to the systemic problems within our society. Therapy is also expensive, and finding the right therapist that understands you is a trial-and-error process that not everyone can afford. Thus, programs like Beyond the Shop open up the possibility for increasing accessible therapy services beyond private practice offices. To find space outside of one room and to be able to connect with a broader community of people who look like you, who understand your feelings, who can affirm your existence is far more valuable to young queer people who are figuring out who they are.