Students who are at higher risk for mental health concerns--including LGBTQ+ students--should have equitable access to confidential healthcare

Creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students through telehealth


Students who are at higher risk for mental health concerns--including LGBTQ+ students--should have equitable access to confidential healthcare

Studies have shown that LGBTQ+ youth are at greater risk of developing maladaptive behaviors, such as self-harm and substance abuse, which, in turn, leads to feelings of guilt and lack of self-worth. These behaviors occur due to the lack of supports and insufficient examples of healthy coping mechanisms. We all can default to harmful strategies, such as smoking and cutting behavior, without good guidance because it resolves immediate pains.

The family dynamic for LGBTQ+ students can also be more difficult, as they may not be receiving enough (or any) support from a parent or guardian.

I know adults who are still coping with this sort of trauma, which is painful to see. It’s also a reminder of why it’s so important that we do whatever we can to support, advocate for and protect our most vulnerable youth.

By providing access to telehealth services, school districts can:

Remove barriers

First and foremost, telehealth helps remove stigmas and judgement that LGBTQ+ youth so often face.

There’s a long history between mental health and LGBTQ+ populations. Until not too long ago, their identity was treated as a pathology – or seen as a bad thing. Healthcare hasn’t been the warmest place for those who identify in this way.

Providers who specialize in serving LGBTQ+ patients exist, but it’s still a growing field. This means it can be incredibly difficult to find and see a clinician with this expertise in-person.

Through a telehealth service, however, patients aren’t limited by their physical location. They can access a wider range of physicians and other resources, including those specific to LGBTQ+ populations.

Prioritize inclusivity

While we’re seeing progress in supporting equal rights, legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community is still a reality. According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s annual State Equality Index, 185 anti-equality bills were introduced in 2020–four of which were signed into law.

In the face of discrimination, schools are often the go-to support for LGBTQ+ youth. This means that education leaders should be doing everything they can to create safe, welcoming spaces for every student.

It must be intentional. A safe space isn’t just a physical place. Rather, it’s an environment where students are free to be themselves, without fear. It’s so important to listen. Center LGBTQ+ youth voices, so students can decide for themselves what they want from their school-based mental healthcare. 

In therapy, you want to have good rapport with your provider. The same holds true for a physical, or any other appointment; you want to be able to trust that provider and feel like they “see” you. This is vital for LGBTQ+ students.

Districts can support this by providing access to in-school and community services. An important start is fostering opportunities where young people can express themselves–in terms of a pronoun, for example. I know this can feel like a stretch for some schools; it’s necessary for creating spaces that feel truly safe for all students.

Address students’ mental and physical health needs

Remember: finding clinicians with the right expertise can be a challenge. Telehealth opens the door to a larger base of support with which students can connect.

There’s safety and trust, too. A virtual appointment doesn’t require a student to visit a doctor’s physical office. Instead, they’re in charge of creating their own safe space to receive care.

Telehealth can be used to address immediate health needs, like a fever and chronic conditions like asthma, as well as behavioral health through therapy and other services.

Working together to support all students

There’s much to be learned from the districts that are taking active steps to create inclusive, welcoming classrooms. And schools don’t have to go about this alone. Consciously partnering with telehealth providers, such as Hazel Health, on well-being initiatives is another way to nurture safe, non-judgmental and confidential spaces where young people can receive care.

Adolescence is about holding onto hope and envisioning a future. When that’s taken away, it has detrimental effects on mental and physical health. Let’s work together to eliminate barriers and extend proper care to every student, especially those most vulnerable.

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