Black LGBTQ+/SGL people in the U.S. hold multiple marginalized identities. Not only are we more likely to experience discrimination, rejection, stigma, bigotry, and violence, but these become cumulative, compounded sources of toxic stress, which increase susceptibility to illness and early death. The bias that we are subjected to shows up as lack of access to responsive and timely care, insufficient resources, and retraumatization. This is particularly visible right now, as we navigate overlapping crises of pandemic, economic disintegration, anti-Blackness, and cis-hetero patriarchal violence.
Although Black LGBTQ+/SGL people, including youth, face a higher level of mental health need, compared to non-Black LGBTQ+/SGL people, we are significantly less likely to have access to culturally competent professional care. Several factors are responsible, including: discrimination and bias from people who could connect us to or provide care, traumatic encounters with care providers like therapists, a largely undertrained and culturally incompetent pool of providers to choose from, stigma attached to seeking mental health care, lack of access to affordable health insurance, insufficient provider options within covered care, and the risk of lost autonomy or increased surveillance in the care of providers, just to name a few.
What we know:
- Anti-Blackness and racism cause stress, toxic stress, and trauma.
- Access to healthcare services and facilities is impeded by anti-Blackness and racism.
- Mental health professionals are rarely trained to respond to the racial trauma and complex trauma caused by intersectional marginality in society.
- For Black trans, Black queer, and Black non-binary people these issues are compounded by homophobia, biphobia, transphobia/ transmisogyny (the unique oppression Black trans women face), and other bias and stigma..
- LGBTQ+ people of color are more than twice as likely to experience discrimination when applying for jobs and interacting with police.
- Black LGBTQ+/SGL children, youth, and young adults are not spared these stresses, whether at home, at school, or out in their communities.
By the Numbers:
By the Numbers
- Black people are 10% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic white people
- The suicide rate of Black men is 4 times higher than that of Black women.
- In 2017 2.6% of Black men reported having serious psychological distress, 3.7% of women reported the same experience.
Children, Youth, and Young Adults
- The suicide rate among Black youth ages 5-11 is increasing faster than for any other racial or ethnic group.
- Black children under the age 14 are taking their own lives at twice the rate of White children the same age.
- The suicide rate among children and youth ages 10-19 nearly doubled between 2007 and 2017.
Among Black trans, queer, and non-binary youth:
- 66% reported being depressed in the last 12 months;
- 35% reported seriously considering suicide in the past 12 months; and
- 19% reported a suicide attempt in the past 12 months.
There are tools that we can use to process emotions and manage the stress we invariably face—especially during a global pandemic. Here are a few examples:
One powerful way to reset your nervous system and reduce the impact of stress on your body is to take several slow deep breaths. Inhale through your nose for a count of five deep into your belly, hold for a count of three, then exhale through your mouth for a count of five. As you repeat this, you will be able to feel tension ease throughout your body.
Allow yourself to feel your emotions without judgment. Not judging ourselves, especially when the world judges us so harshly can be among the most difficult things to do. It’s among the most important.
Let yourself to feel everything you’re feeling, as you feel it. Treat yourself the way you’d treat a small child with those feelings. (You can hug yourself, if you want. We won’t judge.)
Take time to sit and reflect on your day without external distractions
- What went well?
- What did you learn?
- Are there things you feel grateful about?
You can also…
- Talk to someone you trust about the way you are feeling
- Move your body and release pent up energy
- Create a relaxing routine (a hot shower, stretching, planning ahead, etc.)
- Spend time with friends and loved ones (a video call or even a socially distanced walk together could help)
- Unwind with your favorite shows, podcasts, or other entertainment
- Read, write, or journal
If you are financially able, you might adopt a pet to uplift your spirits and mental health as a whole — Studies show that having a pet around for emotional support is beneficial for those living with mental illness.
Pivot to Action. Feeling hopeless, out of control, and without answers can lead to negative emotions and additional stress. Doing something meaningful can help to counteract negative emotions. Dance, donate to worthy causes, engage in small acts of kindness, and do things that bring you joy. You are entitled to pursue things that truly make you happy.
Seek Support. Many of us wouldn’t hesitate to ask a professional trainer for assistance with specific fitness goals. Keep that same energy when it comes to your mental health. Enlist the support of qualified (which means culturally competent) mental health professionals to help you not merely survive but to thrive!
MESSAGES FROM THE YOUTH & YOUNG ADULT ACTION COUNCIL TO YOUTH
- Find Your People. It’s important to surround yourself with people who love you as your whole self – whether close friends, mentors, the family you were born into, or the family you’ve chosen.
- Safety first. We know that home is not a safe space for everyone. Try to find a safe place where you can show up, as you are, even if it’s a virtual community. Click here for a list of resources that members of our council have found to be useful.
- You Have A Self. You are who you are, not who people tell you you are. You are both an embodied person and an emotional being and you get to decide what happens to your body and your Self.
- Your Needs Are Valid. Who you are and what you feel and need are real? Trust yourself and demand the things you need to be holistically well (in spirit, body, and mind).
Messages to adults seeking to support Black trans, queer, and non-binary children, youth, and young adults:
- Actively Listen. Check in with the children, youth, and young adults in your life. Ask them what they’re experiencing and how they’re making sense of it all. Listen with openness and curiosity. Respect their ability to know their own minds, even though they are still developing language and perspective. It may be appropriate to explore with them whether they have access to therapy or professional support.
- Model healthy behavior. It’s really difficult for children, youth, and young adults to believe things we say when our actions are inconsistent. Among the most important things adults can do is to ensure they are well—that they are actively invested in protecting their mental health. Demonstrating the importance of doing this for yourself will send strong signals to the young people in your life. Take personal responsibility for the ways you are human, practice compassion and self-compassion, and show young people how you are working to build a vibrant life and future. Make it make sense to them.
- Center the most marginalized. All Black lives matter. In spite of this fact, too often the experiences of Black people who have a disability, are a religious minority, or are a sexual minority, for example, are not considered. Be sure to learn about and make space for the Black people most neglected and ignored.
- Work Woke. Ensure you’re processing information from reliable and trustworthy sources. In addition to educating yourself about anti-racism it’s equally important to learn more about the contributions of Black trans, queer, and non-binary people and communities.
- Guard your joy. While important to stay informed it’s equally important to guard your joy. Taking time to unplug from the world and to check-in with yourself and your mental health can help you identify what you most need in order to remain happy, healthy, and whole.
If you do one thing, practice self-compassion. We are living through a global pandemic and several related crises including ones caused by racism and economic collapse. During this time of emergency be gentle with yourself—your mind, your heart, and your body.
Here are resources we want to share:
NBJC Words Matter Mental Health Toolkit [in development]
Ring the Alarm Report
Trevor Project Research Brief: Black LGBTQ Youth Mental Health
If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call the Trevor Lifeline now at 1-866-488-7386; text START to 678-678; or visit trevorspace.org
Suicide Prevention Support
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), visiting www.thehotline.org or texting LOVEIS to 22522.
 There are significantly higher rates of suicidality among transgender and/or non-binary youth. Black transgender and/or non-binary youth report double the rates of seriously considering (59%(trans/non-binary) vs 27% (cis)) and attempting (32% (trans/non-binary) vs 15% (cis)) suicide in the past 12 months compared to cisgender Black youth.
 Based on how data is collected and how language may inhibit Black people from being fully represented in the data we should assume the aforementioned numbers are under-reported. Rates of received treatment and reported distress are likely significantly lower than the actual need or challenge, respectively.