A few weeks after the Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech Conference, we are highlighting a few conversations held during the conference. We spoke with members of the Hopelab team about their new product, imi, including Fred Dillon, the Head of Advisory Services at Hopelab, Deborah Levine, the Director of LGBT YouthLink at Centerlink, and Primo Goldberg, a youth consultant at Hopelab. We discuss how imi was created, specific concerns that LGBTQ+ youth face, and how digital health can provide an important service.
LGBTQ+ youth face unique mental health challenges. LGBTQ+ youth report higher levels of suicidal ideation than their heterosexual peers. The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 45% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. Additionally, the 2022 survey found that nearly 1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide, and LGBTQ+ youth of color reported higher rates than their white peers.
In fact, since the beginning of COVID-19, more than 50% of LGBTQ+ youth report higher levels of anxiety and depression. Additionally, 72% of LGBTQ+ youth reported anxiety symptoms in a two-week period, including more than 3 in 4 transgender and nonbinary youth, and 62% of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of major depressive disorder, including more than 2 in 3 transgender and nonbinary youth. As a result, 48% of LGBTQ+ youth wanted counseling from a mental health professional but were unable to receive it in the past year. On the other hand, LGBTQ+ youth may also face harassment or a lack of cultural competency from providers, which may lead to an avoidance of mental health services for fear of potential discrimination.
Despite what these numbers suggest, LGBTQ+ youth are not inherently prone to suicide risk because of their sexual orientation or gender identity but rather placed at higher risk because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society.
LGBTQ+ youth face unique challenges that lead to higher levels of mental health concerns such as bias, discrimination, family rejection, and other stressors due to their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. About 75% of LGBTQ+ youth report facing discrimination, and a 2019 survey found that 86% of LGBTQ+ youth reported being harassed or assaulted at school. In fact, one study reported that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were 140% more likely to miss a day of school compared to their heterosexual peers due to safety concerns.
More than 80% of LGBTQ youth said COVID-19 made their living situation more stressful, and it is estimated that LGBTQ+ youth have a 120% higher chance of experiencing homelessness due to family rejection. Additionally, 94% of LGBTQ+ youth reported that recent politics negatively impacted their mental health. Youth with intersectional identities, such as BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth, face added discrimination, hurdles, and lack of access to mental health care. Family conflicts, heightened stress, lack of community support, bullying, and lack of an affirming environment are all risk factors for poor mental health outcomes for LGBTQ+ youth.
What is imi?
imi was created by Hopelab, Centerlink, and the It Gets Better Project and is an online platform designed to support LGBTQ+ youth mental health. The platform offers four topic-based guides focusing on stress, queerness, stigma, and gender, and these guides are built to be a tool for LGBTQ+ youth to self explore. Each guide has content and activities built to enhance coping skills and mental well-being, alongside LGBTQ+ resources and tips for safer browsing imi also has a quick exit button and will automatically time out after 10 minutes of inactivity. This is thoughtfully designed to minimize the risk of users being unintentionally outed. New data, detailed in a preprint manuscript (not yet peer-reviewed), indicates that imi effectively supports the well-being of LGBTQ+ youth.
Knowing all of the barriers and stressors that LGBTQ+ youth face, Fred explains, “what we know is that there are big disparities in mental health for LGBTQ+ teens. So the whole reason we developed this was to give them a greater sense of support, a better sense of an ability to explore and affirm that identity, and then also to manage some of the stressors that just come up of living in a world that doesn’t always affirm and is sometimes outright hostile.” imi was built in conjunction with LGBTQ+ youth to ensure that it is meeting their needs.
imi is also free to access, and Deborah explains, “this really meets young people at the very starting point for them. Anyone can access it as long as they have technology. And my hope is that they will have the sense that there’s a community out there supporting them, that cares about them.”
imi also addresses the intersectional nature of identity and how those identities can influence a person’s lived experience. Primo explains, “It’s amazing to know that there are people recognizing the specific intersections of being a person of color, being queer, and being genderqueer because there’s not a lot of mainstream recognition of intersectional identity and the oppressions that intersectional identities experience.”
imi can also be useful as a guide that therapists use with their patients as well. Fred explains, imi “can provide some tools that folks could use between sessions and bring back to talk with their therapist about.”
These are just a few of the many insights from our conversation with Fred, Deborah, and Primo. To hear the full conversation and learn more about imi, go to our video library.
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