Validation is Vital: How Healthcare Providers Can Help LGBTQ+ Youth

Young people are a vulnerable population due to their reliance on others to provide for them. LGBTQ+ youth face even more risk than the general population. This article provides tips for supporting LGBTQ+ youth as a healthcare provider.

Key takeaways:
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    Tips for being an LGBTQ+-friendly healthcare provider for kids include evaluating your own bias and engaging in culturally competent practices.
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    Support LGBTQ+ youth by understanding high-risk health disparities LGBTQ+ youth face, and be knowledgeable in gender-affirming care.
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    Be nonjudgmental, respectful, and supportive when working with LGBTQ+ youth. Use correct pronouns and ask open-ended questions.

For LGBTQ+ youth, risks for homelessness, mental illness, and suicide are higher. LGBTQ+ youth experience societal stigma and the potential for familial rejection. As an affirming healthcare provider, you can make a positive impact on the health of LGBTQ+ youth.

How to be a supportive provider

Bias, education, and respect are three things to consider when working as a healthcare provider with LGBTQ+ youth.

Bias

We all carry biases. Take time to evaluate your bias towards LGBTQ+ populations. Awareness of your unconscious bias improves your cultural competency as a healthcare provider. In addition, being aware of bias makes you more open and affirming to LGBTQ+ patients.

Educate yourself on cultural competency surrounding LGBTQ+ health. All healthcare providers can benefit from learning. Culturally competent providers can eliminate the distrust and fear LGBTQ+ youth often experience in medical settings.

Start by being nonjudgmental when you ask questions. The way you ask questions to LGBTQ+ patients alerts them of your level of comfort around queer people. Practice using gender-neutral terms and review pronouns. Using inclusive terminology creates a solid rapport and builds trust.

Another way to eliminate bias is not to make assumptions about LGBTQ+ patients. For example, don't assume you know answers based on an LGBTQ+ person's appearance. Instead, ask open-ended questions, such as, "Are you with a partner who can get you pregnant?" or "Are you in a relationship?" Likewise, never assume a patient's gender identity.

Pronouns

Healthcare providers should ask about and use correct pronouns for LGBTQ+ youth. Showing respect and valuing the autonomy of a child is essential. Using a kid's preferred pronouns demonstrates respect and validation for their identity. The role a provider plays is that of a supportive adult.

Validation is visual

Having flyers about trans and gender diverse and LGBTQ+ health issues in a health setting promotes inclusion. Put up posters or flags representing gay and trans pride in your office to demonstrate support for LGBTQ+ individuals. Gender-neutral restrooms are another way to include diversity in your practice setting as a provider.

Little things that might seem inconsequential can go a long way in helping a queer pediatric patient feel safe. Place LGBTQ+ stickers on your work computer. Wear pronoun pins on your badge. A patient who feels safe is more likely to open up about sensitive topics like suicide and homelessness — two issues that disproportionately affect LGBTQ+ youth.

Gender-affirming care

Minority stress, which is stress faced by members of marginalized groups, often leads to internalized shame for LGBTQ+ individuals. In turn, this shame causes poorer mental health. So how to lower the risk? Studies point towards gender-affirming health care.

Providing gender-affirming care, including hormone therapy and puberty blockers, improves the mental health of trans and gender-diverse youth. The Journal of Adolescent Health proved that gender-affirming hormone therapy significantly reduced depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts among trans and nonbinary youth.

Understand LGBTQ+ health disparities

Promoting diversity and inclusion and understanding health disparities that affect LGBTQ+ youth are other ways to be an LGBTQ+-friendly healthcare provider.

Diversity and inclusion

An important aspect of being an LGBTQ+-friendly healthcare provider is seeking diversity training. Educating yourself and your team on best practices for LGBTQ+ youth can help the highest-risk patients. Seek education through learning modules, articles, continuing education units, and conferences that provide information on LGBTQ+ health problems. Advocate for best practices for your patients, including gender-affirming care when indicated.

As a healthcare provider, it's imperative to understand that LGBTQ+ youth face health disparities. For nonbinary, bisexual, and transgender youth, the risk for adverse health outcomes is higher. LGBTQ+ youth of color are also more at risk for adverse outcomes.

LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to:

  • Engage in self-harm and have a history of suicide attempts.
  • Experience anxiety and depression.
  • Have an eating disorder.
  • Smoke and abuse alcohol or other substances.
  • Experience family rejection and be kicked out of their homes.
  • Be bullied and harassed at school or home.

Safety leads to better health outcomes

The stigma around being LGBTQ+ is a barrier to inclusive and affirming healthcare. Availability, accessibility, acceptability, and equity are four crucial components of pediatric care that can eliminate the negative consequences of stigma. With these components in place in medical settings, LGBTQ+ youth benefit. A healthcare provider who is accepting reduces alienation and improves healthcare accessibility for LGBTQ+ youth.

It's also no longer acceptable to practice "watchful waiting" regarding children's identities. This approach makes "gender diversity and fluidity…pathologized," according to a statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Identifying as LGBTQ+ is not a phase. Kids must have support as they develop into their identities. LGBTQ+ kids need support no matter how they identify, even if they are "unsure." Withholding support is damaging.

For LGBTQ+ people ages 10 to 24, suicide is the second leading cause of death. Supportive adults may not be the norm for LGBTQ+ youth. Receiving validation from a healthcare provider can help LGBTQ+ youth feel safer and have better health outcomes. Screening for suicide in LGBTQ+ youth is lifesaving:

Trans and nonbinary youth are 2 to 2.5 times more likely to have depression and consider suicide than LGBQ and cisgender peers.

Two-spirit Native American LGBTQ+ youth consistently had the highest rate of suicide. Twenty-one percent of Native LGBTQ+ youth have attempted suicide, compared with 12% of their white peers.

LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness and housing instability were 3.5 times more likely to attempt suicide.

The importance of being treated well in medical settings for LGBTQ+ youth can shape the rest of their lives when it comes to getting healthcare. Unfortunately, one experience of discrimination has the power to dissuade LGBTQ+ youths from seeking preventative care in the future. Being aware of the struggles sexual and gender minorities face is one-way healthcare providers can better support these patients.

When LGBTQ+ kids feel empowered to be truthful about their identities and health requirements, they have better access to the care they need. As a healthcare provider, you have to create a welcoming environment. With a bit of self-reflection, research, and respect, you can help LGBTQ+ youth by being a competent and caring health provider.

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