Buckeye Ranch LGBTQ Mental Health Campaign to Reduce Youth Stigma
Andrew Levitt’s first exposure to mental health treatment was in his childhood, when his parents took him to see a therapist because they thought he might be gay.
“The initial introduction wasn’t necessarily a positive one, but it turned into a very positive experience,” Levitt said.
In keeping with his larger mission of teaching self-love and acceptance, Levitt – better known by her drag queen stage name Nina West – has joined Buckeye Ranch, one of the most popular youth service agencies. oldest and most well-known in central Ohio, in its new campaign to promote discussions about mental health in the LGBTQ community.
The I wish someone had told me campaign features videos and written testimonials from people about the messages they wish they had received as young people exploring and questioning their gender orientation and gender identity . Dr Patricia Gentile, Psychiatric Director of Buckeye Ranch, said the campaign aims not only to promote open conversations about mental health in the LGBTQ community, but to highlight LGBTQ-specific resources.
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Validating people from an early age is vital to their emotional health and success – and it’s even more crucial for LGBTQ youth, Levitt said.
“LGBTQIA + people are inherently being told that who they are is not right by culture and society and by the mass media,” said Levitt, 42, of the Harrison West neighborhood of Columbus. “We are told that we are a stain and that we should not exist.”
Fight loneliness, depression, mental illness
In her experience working with LGBTQ youth, Gentile said she has noticed how a lack of validation exacerbates mental health issues.
“They are often isolated, feel lonely, feel different, feel like something is wrong with them, and don’t feel worthy,” Gentile said. “And then they have a lot of confusion as to why they experience things differently from other people.”
A 2020 national survey showed that 40% of LGBTQ people aged 13 to 24 had seriously considered suicide in the past year – more than half of transgender and non-binary youth reporting so. More than half of LGBTQ youth reported experiencing symptoms of major depressive disorder and 68% of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of anxiety in theover the past two weeks, according to a report from The Trevor Project, a national nonprofit group that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ people under the age of 25.
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Before becoming a transgender man, Hayden Yokum, 24, of Bexley, became a lesbian in high school after a friend threatened to take Yokum out. His mother is a lesbian and started taking Yocum to Columbus Pride at the age of five and his friends supported him.
But he was the only queer person in his group of friends and felt isolated, and with no one to talk to who understood his experience, Yokum was struggling with his sanity.
“Even when I went out at the time, I didn’t feel quite good yet,” he said. “I went to high school, never really talked about it or really expressed myself the way I wanted to.
Yokum said he developed depression in high school, which resulted in self-harm and suicide attempts. It wasn’t until college, where he made friendships with other LGBTQ people, that Yocum felt comfortable enough to explore his gender expression.
Yokum said he toyed with the idea of being transgender in college and started accepting it as part of his identity in the summer of 2019.
“As soon as I said it out loud to someone, I was like, ‘Oh, now that looks perfect to me,’” Yokum said. He started testosterone in April 2020 and is currently recovering from sex confirmation surgery.
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While Yokum’s friends have shown solidarity and understanding, not all LGBTQ youth experience the same validation when they go out.
According to Project Trevor’s 2020 Mental Health Survey, one in three young LGBTQ people said they had been threatened or physically harmed because of their gender orientation or gender identity. Sixty percent of respondents have experienced discrimination because of their identity, and more than a quarter of LGBTQ youth have experienced homelessness, been evicted or run away from their homes.
Levitt said repeatedly hearing harmful messages about their identity can cause someone to internalize those beliefs.
“I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard, ‘Oh, you’re going to die of AIDS. You will die alone. You are going to die young. No one will love you, ”Levitt said.
Growing up as a child of Christian pastors, Rhonda Cumberbatch often felt called to “follow a certain pattern of life.”
Cumberbatch, who uses him / her pronouns, had self-esteem issues and concerns about “breaking the rules.”
Cumberbatch’s parents found it very difficult to reconcile their religious beliefs with Cumberbatch’s identity – something Cumberbatch struggled with as well.
“I understood what my parents did and taught. I understood why they couldn’t accept it at the time, but it didn’t make it any easier. It didn’t make me feel good about myself anymore, ”said Cumberbatch, home clinician at Buckeye Ranch and youth advocate with the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization.
‘I wish someone had told me’
Yokum stressed the importance of allowing people to question their identity. Looking back, he said there were times he wanted to explore the feeling of being transgender, but he was afraid of being ostracized.
“Even if you feel scared and don’t want to share it externally just yet, I think it’s really important to allow yourself to feel these things and explore them and know that it’s not that scary. may seem, ”Yokum said. He said it can be difficult to remember that there are people and resources who will accept people for who they are, without questioning their identity.
Without any positive portrayal of gay men in the media growing up, Levitt said he had no example to aspire to become, he only had the negative messages that were repeated to him over and over. He eventually found safe and uplifting people in Columbus’ LGBTQ community who dismantled stereotypes, but for so long he didn’t see success as a possibility for himself.
“I wish someone had told me that I would have prospered, because I am booming,” Levitt said.
Working with LGBTQ youth reinforced Cumberbatch’s appreciation and astonishment at their resilience in the face of discrimination and invalidation. Cumberbatch said it’s important to let LGBTQ youth know that there are safe and assertive people and places, and that it’s okay to live out their authentic identities.
Above all, Cumberbatch wanted to feel worthy, especially with his family.
“I wish they could have said, ‘We see you. We appreciate you. We love you, ”Cumberbatch said.