Providing Primary Prevention and School Mental Health Services to LGBTQ+ Children and Youth: A Resiliency-Based Approach

Providing Primary Prevention and School Mental Health Services to LGBTQ+ Children and Youth: A Resiliency-Based Approach

Elizabeth K. Rhoades (Southern Connecticut State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1404-7.ch005
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This chapter provides an overview of the difficulties facing LGBTQ+ youth in schools and their barriers to healthy psychosocial development. The risk and resiliency model is applied to these challenges, and specific risk factors and resiliency factors are explored. The focus is on means to foster healthy growth and development in sexual minority students through developing school-based programs and practices that have been proven to increase resiliency. The chapter provides specific strategies for school-based mental health professionals to use to increase resiliency in sexual minority youth through the application of school-wide policies and practices. Strategies for making such systemic changes and garnering support are also presented.
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Public schools have often struggled in their attempts to meet the needs of diverse groups of learners. Issues of racial and economic segregation and means of providing appropriate services to meet the needs of students with disabilities created controversy and enormous challenges. Schools’ efforts to meet the needs of sexual minority youth have followed a similar path and the difficult journey continues. The National Education Association’s (NEA) status report on GLBT issues in education notes that, “Hostility and apprehension toward homosexuality and gender nonconformity—reinforced over many decades by law, medicine, religion, and other cultural and societal institutions and conventions—continue to plague GLBT youth and adults in schools in every region of the nation, even as signs of greater inclusion and acceptance appear in some areas” (Kim, Sheridan, & Holcomb, 2008, p. vii).

Healthy social and emotional development in LGBTQ+ children and youth is a relatively new concept. Only in 1973 did the American Psychiatric Association (APA) remove homosexuality as diagnostic category of mental disorder (Baughey-Gill, 2011). Gender identity disorder was not removed until 2012, although gender dysphoria remains a controversial and related diagnosis. These identities were defined as manifestations of psychological disorders until relatively recently and public opinion and understanding of sexual minority individuals is still evolving. As society’s primary public institution responsible for teaching social norms and guiding the development of children and youth, schools’ understanding and skills in meeting the needs of LGBTQ+ individuals continue to evolve.

School mental health professionals are in a unique position to provide both individual and systemic support for sexual minority students. The role of school support personnel (counselors, social workers, and school psychologists) in meeting the developmental and mental health needs of LGBTQ+ children and youth (setting the tone, needs assessment, developmental guidance activities, using the positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) process to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ children & youth, working with parents, administrators & school personnel, training issues, providing consultation) is ideal for developing school-wide policies and practices to support these children and youth. In addition, school mental health professionals can use their clinical skills to meet the individual mental health and emotional needs of sexual minority youth. Not surprisingly, these students say they would be more comfortable discussing LGBTQ+ issues with a school-based mental health professional such as a school psychologist, counselor or social worker (52.8%) than a teacher (42.3%), school nurse (30.1%), school administrator (25.9%) or coach (18.4%) (Kosciw, Greytak, Zongrone, Clark, & Truong, 2018).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN): An organization founded by teachers dedicated to making schools safe, affirming and inclusive places for LGBT youth.

Ally: An individual who uses their power and energies to help support LGBTQ+ individuals.

Minority Stress Theory: An explanation for the numerous negative outcomes related to the victimization of LGBT youth. Given the disproportionate discrimination, harassment, and stressors these individuals face, physical, emotional and academic difficulties are likely to follow.

Resilience: The ability of the individual to adapt and function in a relatively healthy matter despite adverse experiences.

Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs): School clubs or organizations consisting of LGBTQ+ youth and peer allies that serve a support and advocacy function for LGBT youth.

Sexual Minority Youth: Young people who do not identify as heterosexual and/or gender typical.

Resiliency Factors: Variables that help the individual buffer against negative experiences and move forward.

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