Saskatchewan

Christmas is not always merry for LGBTQ youth, says Saskatoon psychiatrist

LGBTQ youth face many challenges over the holidays, especially when isolated at home, one psychiatrist says. Here's how parents can help.

How to support your LGBTQ children during the holiday season

Saskatoon psychiatrist Dr. Sara Dungavell, who works with youth, says LGBTQ youth face many challenges when isolated at home, especially during the holidays. (Shutterstock)

Christmas cheer can be found even during a pandemic, but for LGBTQ youth the holidays don't always bring comfort and joy. 

Saskatoon psychiatrist Dr. Sara Dungavell, who works with youth, said there are many challenges LGBTQ youth face when isolated at home. 

"Families can be wonderful and loving supporting places, but they can also be quite challenging places," Dungavell said. 

"Most LGBTQ youth don't have parents who are also in the LGBTQ community. And often parents don't know how to be supportive to their youngsters. So a lot of their identity and their support can sometimes come from friends and social groups, and those have been severely limited since the pandemic started."

For many, this holiday season will be a chance to unwind and relax in their own home but for some youth, being 'themselves' is not an option. Psychiatrist Sara Dungavell talks about some of the challenges some LGBTQ youth have when they're stuck at home. 10:39

Studies show that being part of an understanding community can decrease the risk of suicide among youths. 

According to the Centre For Suicide Prevention, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are more at risk for suicide than their straight peers. They are five times more likely to contemplate suicide and seven times more likely to attempt suicide, the centre says. 

A study by Trans Pulse says the risk is even higher for transgender people.

"With the holidays and all the emphasis on love, and togetherness and family, when their families don't know how to be supportive it can be very isolating and very sad and very challenging for those youngsters," Dungavell said. 

Studies have also shown supportive parents can help. 

A Trans Pulse study from 2012 showed a 93 per cent reduction in reported suicide attempts for youth who indicated their parents were strongly supportive of their gender identify and expression.

"Being supportive of your youngster is a huge step you can take toward helping them be safer, feel better about themselves and decrease the risk you're going to end up in the ER with them because they want to end their life," Dungavell said. 

How to support LGBTQ youth

Dungavell said the best thing a parent can do is show their child support. 

"Let them know you accept them for who they are and that you will continue to accept them for who they are regardless who that person ends up being," she said.

This is expressed by using correct pronouns and names, and starting conversations.

If children are resistant to talking, Dungavell suggests having LGBTQ family-friendly media and books with the theme is place, "so they see you're accepting of it."

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If parents are nervous about broaching the topic with their children, Dungavell suggests practising in the mirror. 

"What matters is your intent. Are you trying to be supportive and are you consistently showing that to your youngster?" Dungavell said. 

"The most important takeaway is that you love this youngster."

With files from Saskatoon Morning

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