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HLA House Project: Addressing Mental Health Care Disparities Faced by LGBTQ+ Youths

Sept. 30, 2021

Students in the Health Leadership Apprentice Program, divided into “house” teams, work alongside Community-Driven Initiatives to help Central Texas community members address health-related issues. This post is by the 2020-2021 members of the Red House: Abhirupa Dasgupta, Manasa Kotamraju, Huy Le, Noor Rana and Shyamal Waghwala.

Our Red House team was interested in tackling social determinants of health among different communities of Austin. Social disparities are in every part of our city, and we found ourselves pulled in different directions. After speaking with organizations such as Integral Care, LifeWorks and the Center for Youth Mental Health, we narrowed our focus to learn more about the gaps in mental health care faced by transition-age youths, and we partnered with Out Youth.

Transition-age youths are adolescents and young adults between the ages of 16 and 25. They are extremely underserved by local, state and federal health care systems. In this age range, individuals begin to age out of their parents’ health insurance coverage and become financially responsible for themselves. This is also the age range in which serious mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety begin to manifest. Without adequate support and treatment, these illnesses can continue to plague young adults throughout the majority of their lives.

Transition-age youths who identify as LGBTQ+ face additional challenges in getting the support they need to maintain their mental and physical well-being. Due to homophobia and transphobia, they face disproportionate amounts of alienation from within their communities as well as broader social institutions, such as the health care system. While researching organizations that provide health care and community support to local LGBTQ+ youths, we came across Out Youth.

Out Youth aids Austin youths who are members of the LGBTQ+ community by providing clinic appointments, mental health services, support groups and other general services. Out Youth has collaborated with the Kind Clinic in Austin to provide mental health support to their trans youth clients. When meeting with Out Youth, they shared plans to create another support group specifically for cis-gendered, queer youth; however, limited staff time and community reach hindered their progress. We wanted to provide social media support and help identify more organizations involving these youths for the successful targeting and introduction of this support group.

As transition-age youths ourselves, we already had some understanding of what graphics and messaging may be appealing. We used this knowledge and other research to develop graphics in Canva for social media posts. In the future, we hope to identify more LGBTQ+ student organizations at local universities and colleges to increase Out Youth’s reach for this new support group. We also hope to launch sticker designs for Out Youth’s fundraising.

Although we have just begun working with Out Youth, we have already learned a great deal about the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ youths in Austin and are discovering more local organizations that support this group. Through this project, we have learned more about Out Youth’s mission and how they are supporting the needs of this community. As a group, we also gained valuable experience working as a team, learning first-hand about the importance of communication, goal setting and work assignments. Regular team meetings were key to continued progress along with accepting help from our mentors, which helped us realize the benefits of learning from and capitalizing on others’ strengths.

Overall, our brief experience has helped us to learn about the challenges faced by transition-age LGBTQ+ youths. We plan to continue working with Out Youth in the months ahead. We hope that our work is just the beginning of elevating the important role of Out Youth and that it encourages others to become involved with LGBTQ+ transition-age youths.