“Hi! Thanks for all that you do. It’s really important and necessary work. Our beautiful, wonderful, 15-year-old LGBT+ child has been in and out of hospitals all year dealing with suicide attempts and depression/anxiety. They are in the hospital again, probably through the rest of the year. We’ve been as strong as we can be, but it is wearing us down. Any advice for us on the homefront, trying to keep the rest of the family running smoothly, while keeping our own heads above water?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Ashleigh Tobin, MA, LLPC
First things first—thank you, sincerely, for your question. The way you speak of your child and family demonstrates a great deal of love, respect, and honesty. Asking for help to meet your very legitimate needs is a vulnerable, yet incredibly brave thing to do. This tells me you’re on the right path already.
Research tells us that LGBTQIA+ individuals are nearly three times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition. Common diagnoses are depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse. Another staggering reality is that LGBTQIA+ youth contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth. Contributing factors range from confronting stigma and prejudice, fear of coming out, discrimination in housing and employment opportunities, familial rejection, governmental policies that deny rights, etc. Even though homosexuality was depathologized in 1973 in the field of mental health, the reality is that clinical practice, training, and societal acceptance have lagged far behind. Your child’s experience is a devastating reality for many youth today. Parents and caregivers like you are a bright spot in the midst of this struggle.
Through no fault of their own, your child’s needs during their struggle have had to come first. It might feel odd to be honest about the toll this can take on the rest of the family, but it is undoubtedly true. The time to think about all of your needs is now. The love and energy you are pouring into your child has to come from somewhere, so let’s think about how it might be replenished.
Here are some thoughts for the homefront:
Prioritize time spent together (even if your child cannot be present). Create a new holiday tradition. Get a date night in at least every other week. Devote intentional one-on-one time to your other children and make sure they feel seen and heard. It’s OK if you take a night off from talking about your child, because they are always in your heart and on your mind.
Call in reinforcements. I’m a firm believer in the idea that it takes a village to raise a child. Consider how you can lighten your load. Reach out to supportive relatives, mentors, community organizations, and close friends. They can assist with supporting your child, family transportation needs, meals, gathering resources, ensuring siblings get some special time, etc.
Become an advocate. Sometimes the journey with an LGBTQIA+ child can feel frustrating. As a parent, you might be worn down for how many things in our society seem to go against your child’s thriving. By engaging in advocacy work, you gain exposure to supportive, like-minded individuals as well as a source of strength and purpose that will benefit everyone in your family. You will be empowered as you fight for the needs of your child. If you need help getting started, you may be interested in reading our pieces about showing up for the LGBTQIA+ community and getting involved in activism.
Consider professional support. Everything your family is going through is a lot to process. You may want to consider counseling as individuals and/or as a family. You all deserve a nonjudgmental and supportive place to explore your own feelings and needs. If you do seek counseling, ensure that you select a professional that is familiar with and supportive of LGBTQIA+ issues and family systems theory.
And a couple of suggestions for supporting your child:
Find the right healthcare providers. Whether for physical, emotional, or mental health needs, the right provider can make all of the difference. I suggest interviewing providers to be certain that they’re familiar with the unique issues that LGBTQIA+ individuals face. Your child needs people in their corner who accept them as they are and who do not pathologize their identity. If they claim support but lack experience, thank them and keep looking.
Remember that your child is whole as they are. If you opt to seek professional help for your child, be sure that their identity is not the reason for treatment. Pathology does not exist intrinsic to their identity, but they do deserve support in navigating their identity and our culture’s reactions to it. In short, reducing anyone to just one characteristic is problematic. Their identity is multifaceted and complex, so their treatment should match this.
Thank you for reaching out, for sharing your humanity, and for posing such an important question. Our thoughts will be with your family, and we’ll all be here cheering each of you on!
Ashleigh is a Psychotherapist in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The foundation of Ashleigh’s approach to counseling is the idea that you will never be good at being anyone other than yourself. She focuses on who you are, where you’ve been, and who you are becoming in relation to yourself and others. Ashleigh specializes in working with LGBTQIA+ individuals, women, and young adults. Maintaining a safe, collaborative, and judgment-free space where ALL are welcome is her top priority. When she’s not working, you can find her watching the Great British Baking Show with her wife, playing guitar, doting over her cat Oatmeal Stout, and drinking Manhattans. Follow her on Twitter @theraqueer