Student Well-Being Q&A

Mental Health Concerns Multiply for LGBTQ Students Who Are Asian American

By Ileana Najarro — May 10, 2022 5 min read
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Students who identify as LGBTQ and Asian American/Pacific Islander, or AAPI, need culturally relevant mental health supports that affirm all their identities and acknowledge the multiple forms of discrimination these students face in society.

That’s one of the key takeaways from a new report by the Trevor Project, a national group providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth.

Using data from a national survey sample of about 3,600 AAPI LGBTQ youth ages 13-24 taken between October and December 2020, the organization found that 40 percent of AAPI LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in 2020, with 16 percent attempting suicide.

It also found that 54 percent of AAPI LGBTQ youth reported discrimination based on their race/ethnicity that same year, 63 percent AAPI transgender and nonbinary youth reported discrimination based on their gender identity, and 10 percent of AAPI LGBTQ youth reported discrimination based on their immigration status.

“The mental health findings that we see, both for racial/ethnic minorities and for LGBTQ youth isn’t because of these identities in and of themselves, but because of their marginalized experience in society,” said report co-author Myeshia Price, a senior research scientist at the Trevor Project.

The report is part of the group’s broader efforts to shed light on the intersectional experiences of LGBTQ youth in the country, especially amid growing legislation limiting discussion of race and sexuality in schools as well as legislation targeting LGBTQ students. Price spoke with Education Week about how educators can better address the mental health needs of LGBTQ students of color, in particular those who also identify as AAPI.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

What were the last few years in education like for LGBTQ students who also identify within specific racial or ethnic communities?

We do know that legislation is specifically targeting trans and nonbinary youth but it’s also going after critical race theory, some of the discussions that are specifically addressing the discrimination and unique challenges faced by racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. And so youth not being able to have their identities accurately represented in a school setting, which is where they spend the vast majority of their time at this age, is definitely something that’s going to impact their overall mental health and well-being.

We do know that having your identity affirmed in the school setting, being in an LGBTQ-affirming school is protective for LGBTQ youth. And we do know that having your identity affirmed, whatever that identity is, is going to be protective for LGBTQ youth. We also know, based on polling data that we have, that LGBTQ youth in particular, are aware of these policies being argued—you know, their identities are being debated right in front of them. They reported that this is definitely having an impact on their mental health.

When you think about the impact of having the multiple combination of these things, so not only is one aspect of your identity being threatened, but multiple aspects of your identity. So we start to think about what the impact of having multiple marginalized identities can do for you. And that’s one of the things that we looked at, or we examined in this report and other reports that we’ve done looking at intersectionality among LGBTQ youth. Particularly for this report, AAPI youth not only experience some of the discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, but they also experienced race-based discrimination and immigration-based discrimination. And so these are all things that are just sort of like compounding and impacting mental health and in different ways.

Myeshia Price

How does the support system differ when you’re trying to build support systems for students who are a part of multiple communities?

Definitely one size doesn’t fit all. Anything must be culturally salient and reflective of diverse identities. Particular to AAPI LGBTQ youth, for example, we know about the importance of family, community, and how important their racial and ethnic identity is for them, and how protective that is for them. All these things are important. So if you don’t bring family, and racial/ethnic identity, and the importance of culture into these programs, and you just sort of say “oh, we’re all the same, we’re all LGBTQ,” then it’s not going to necessarily have the same impact for AAPI LGBTQ youth.

So you have to think about how these programs should equip parents and other family members to be able to be supportive of these youth because we know that that’s something that’s going to be important for these youth. You have to think about how to equip communities that these youth find themselves in to better support LGBTQ youth.

LGBTQ people of color often report that “yes, I’m experiencing racism even within the LGBTQ community.” So you have to be sure to honor their experiences and how to be sure that they are able to actually benefit from these programs that you’re doing. Schools, public health officials, and honestly all youth-serving mental health organizations must use an intersectional lens, and tailor their programs and services to meet the specific needs of diverse communities in order to be effective.

What are the challenges that educators need to keep in mind when creating mental health support systems for these students?

We do have barriers to access to healthcare. And I think when we look at some of those, we do see that there are cultural things in terms of feeling like a burden on one’s family, and also that feeling as though “I don’t have support in my community or this isn’t something that we usually do.” This is something that has come up in a lot of separate reports.

One of the things that I think is the best way to go about this is engaging stakeholders within the community. There are definitely organizations out there who are already within these communities, they have gained the trust of leadership, they’ve gained the trust of families, and they’re working to address this already. And so I think finding those key stakeholders, and people who are respected community members, is one of the best starts to this and working with them to develop a program that will then help to reach youth. It’s gonna be hard to sort of start with the youth themselves, if there’s a community that’s not necessarily supportive.

But also, we have to consider that having available free services to use on campuses is definitely a great way to allow them to access services for themselves, because a big barrier is getting parental permission, particularly for LGBTQ youth who may not want to talk about their identities with their parents quite yet. So definitely having access to those services at schools is important for youth.

I definitely want to add that policymakers must invest in culturally competent mental health care that is accessible to all youth, and expand that to be trans inclusive and culturally-inclusive policies and practices.

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