Expanding Access to Behavioral and Mental Health Programs for LGBTQ+ Youth

Evalyn, 19, is in a strong place—and wants to help other transgender youth get there too, without so much pain along the way.

 

Evalyn facilitates weekly meetings for transgender teens at the Boston Alliance of LGBTQ Youth, or BAGLY, and is viewed as a role model. But there have been struggles along the way, and “I got here by teaching myself,” says Evalyn.

 

It’s hard to overstate the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ youth. A 2017 study found that while 17% of high school students in general had seriously considered suicide, the percentage jumped to 48% for LGBTQ+ teens. Nearly a quarter (23%) of them made a suicide attempt.

 

Peer-led help

With a grant from Boston Children’s Collaboration for Community Health, BAGLY plans to make sure transgender teens don’t feel alone. Its A Newer Normal program will expand individual, group, and community access to mental and behavioral health programs and services, designed specifically by and for LGBTQ+ youth in Greater Boston. 

 

At BAGLY, “We put together programming run by peer leaders” like Evalyn, says Galina Smith, Health Programs manager. “We give them skills; we help them create community leadership for others.” BAGLY hosts a different identity meeting each weeknight- for women, transgender people, people of color, and young transfeminine people.

 

There are plenty of other offerings as well: An Arts Corner, a weekly Open Mic Night, Family Dinners, and workshops on sexual health.

 

“What’s exciting about the grant”, says Smith, is that it “lets us open a new chapter: behavioral and mental health.” A Newer Normal will offer the following: 

  • Peer-led mental health support groups for discussion and problem solving. These will cover such basic topics as how to find a therapist, medication adherence, and coping mechanisms.
  • Drop-in therapy availability. Smith says this will consist of “confidential therapy with a licensed social worker.” The 30-minute sessions will be free of charge.
  • Drop-in narrative art therapy, which also will entail no fee or health insurance requirement. The idea is to help youth use creative expression to separate their own identity from stereotypes.
  • Group therapy. For these closed sessions, participants will sign up in advance for a six-week cycle. Topics will be chosen in response to BAGLY teens’ requests; one early example is the intersection of gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia.

 

While BAGLY specializes in peer-led programs, adult professionals are always available at its innovative, culturally responsive community center near Boston’s Government Center. “I always try to help to the best of my ability,” says Evalyn. “But there are also a lot of resources for me to refer people to.”

 

What success looks like

BAGLY is committed to the success of A Newer Normal, and will carefully track various metrics to gauge the program’s progress. “There’s attendance, of course,” says Smith. “We want to make sure people are coming, and that they’re returning.” Word of mouth is also crucial for any program aimed at teens, so BAGLY will check to make sure attendees are bringing friends. Also, Smith adds, “We want to see positive mental health outcomes attributed to our programs. Are they accessible? Do youth feel empowered to access other programs outside BAGLY? Do they just feel more in their skin?”

 

With peers like Evalyn leading the way, there is every reason to believe they will. “I’m just excited to make a positive difference in people’s lives,” says Evalyn. “I want to give them hope that they can get where I am today.”