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Hey there! We’re Twyla, Mali, Chris, and Jenny, and we’re all young LGBTQIA+ people who have experienced mental health crises and sought support. We’re here to give you an insider’s perspective on what it’s like to be a young person in crisis who identifies as LGBTQIA+.
We’ve created four learning guides based on our experiences, and we hope you’ll complete them all. They’re short, accessible, and delivered entirely by us.
In this learning guide, we’ll discuss the acronym LGBTQIA+ and the different identities it represents. We’ll also talk about the challenges we face when seeking help during a crisis and how you can better support us.
Whether you’re a family member, friend, carer, trusted adult in our school or community, or a health professional, this learning guide will help you feel more confident about what to say and do when supporting us.
Twyla: Hi. My name is Twyla. My pronouns are she/they.
Mali: Hi. My name is Mali. My pronouns are they/them or she/her.
Chris: Hi. My name is Chris. My pronouns are they/them.
Jenny: Hi. My name is Jenny. My pronouns are she/her.
Twyla: LGBTQIA+ most frequently is used to describe people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex and Asexual. The plus sign is used inclusively to represent different identities and experiences. People may use different words to represent their sexuality, including different words to represent the various letters, we’ve included a list below of examples. We’ll also explore the words behind LGBTQIA+ further in the learning guide – ‘What we need people supporting us in crisis to know.’
Mali: To create this learning guide we took part in discussions with many other LGBTQIA+ young people, and people that work with them. We found out about what’s important when asking for help in a crisis situation and the challenges that might occur.
Chris: All of this lived experience has been used to create these Crisis Tools for anyone looking for advice; whether you are someone who wants to be an ally or you are a professional providing help.
Twyla: Your gender identity is about who you are, your sense of self; some people are men, some people are women, some people are non-binary. Your sexuality/sexual identity is about who you are attracted to.
Jenny: In these guides we use Queer as a positive and inclusive umbrella term. It covers lots of differences about our gender identity and our sexual identity. Queer used to be used as a slur against the LGBTQIA+ community but many people have reclaimed it and use it in place of the abbreviation.
Mali: There can be many reasons that identifying as queer can result in challenges. Our society is framed around ‘cishet’ people; who are cisgendered, meaning they identify with the gender they were given at birth, and the assumption that romantic and sexual relationships occur only between a man and a woman, known as ‘hetero’ or ‘straight.’
Chris: This can cause problems for Queer people, for example, ‘at one point I tried using he/him pronouns with friends, however, this was mainly due to the societal pressure to fit into the gender binary in order to feel validated, rather than because I didn’t identify with being non-binary.’
Jenny: Understanding and accepting that not everyone’s the same can avoid discrimination. It allows space for LGBTQIA+ people to feel seen and heard.
Twyla: If you feel more confident about the different ways to describe our identity it will help a young person to feel safe with you and it is really appreciated. It also means they don’t feel like they have to be an expert and explain everything.
Mali: Coming out, expressing how we feel about these identities for ourselves, is a huge step for us. It may take a lot of courage and can leave us feeling very vulnerable, especially if you are the first person we have told. If we are in crisis then we are at a point of desperation. Coming out may cause many conflicting emotions, such as relief or feeling uncomfortable, helpless, defensive or embarrassed.
Chris: If a person is transgender, they may have already experienced years of what is known as gender dysphoria, which describes the distress caused by understanding they are not the gender they were assigned at birth. They may have felt they were unable to talk about it.
Jenny: We may be at different stages of accepting who we are and we need to be able to trust you. Being collaborative as we talk helps this. There is a whole culture around being queer which we may find overwhelming and we may be discovering things about ourselves and what we want.
Twyla: One young person told us they feel that there should be more support groups and advice to help navigate LGBTQIA+ experiences, especially in the early stages of figuring out that part of their identity as it can be isolating and not a lot of people speak about it.
Mali: It’s important to say that just because people are LGBTQIA+ does not automatically mean they will have poor mental health. However, studies show we are more likely to experience depression, anxiety and other issues such as suicidal thoughts and self harm. We may feel hopeless and overwhelmed.
Chris: We may also be at different stages in our experiences of looking for help with our mental health. The problems we are having may not necessarily be due to our queerness, but it is still a really important part of who we are.
Jenny: Before a young person can feel comfortable, they may need to work out if there is any risk of experiencing homophobia – dislike and prejudice against gay people. They may have already had experience of this. They may also worry that if they say they’re gay that may be seen as the only reason why they are in crisis and that they won’t get the chance to express how they feel about anything else.
Twyla: We really appreciate that you are joining us to find out more about this, especially as it may be challenging for many different reasons. You may have your own relevant experiences. If you are a family member or friend supporting a Young Person in crisis you may be feeling distressed too.
Thanks for watching the video and joining us on this journey to better understand and support young LGBTQIA+ people in crisis. We know that as a professional, family member, or friend supporting us, you may also experience feelings of distress surrounding your own personal experiences or what we’re going through. You might worry about understanding us, feel fearful, or anxious about the situation. We recognize there might be an overlap between your experience and what is highlighted in this video. Sometimes, talking about your own LGBTQIA+ experiences with professionals or organisations like the LGBT Foundation, MindOut, or Stonewall can help you support us better.
In the video, we discussed the key term “LGBTQIA+.” This umbrella term describes people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and asexual. We mentioned the reclaiming of the term “Queer” in the LGBTQIA+ community, but we understand that it might still be considered offensive. It’s important to check with us whether we’re comfortable using that term.
The plus sign represents any other sexual orientations or gender identities that aren’t heterosexual or cisgender. Heterosexual means someone who is sexually attracted to people of the opposite gender, while cisgender means identifying as the gender they were assigned at birth.
You might also hear the term “gender dysphoria” in these learning guides. Gender dysphoria describes the stress, distress, and/or unease that some people experience when their gender identity doesn’t match the gender they were assigned at birth. This can cause us to feel uncomfortable about certain aspects of ourselves, such as breast size, facial hair, voice, genitalia, or anything that alludes to a gender we don’t identify as. If we experience gender dysphoria, it can lead us to withdraw from social or people-facing activities (like accessing support) and increase our risk of loneliness, social anxiety, self-harm, substance abuse, and other issues.
As young LGBTQIA+ people, we also face many societal pressures, including peer pressure and stereotypes of gender or sexual identity. Studies show that we are more likely to experience depression. However, just because we are LGBTQIA+ doesn’t automatically mean we will have poor mental health. It’s important for professionals supporting us to use communication skills to establish trust, build rapport, and explore the reasons behind our mental distress. We cover this in the “How to start the conversation” guide. We also dive deeper into the words behind LGBTQIA+ in our learning guide, “What we need people supporting us in crisis to know.”
There are some brilliant resources to help you better understand our experiences and support us, including Stonewall’s An Introduction to Supporting LGBTQ+ Children and Young People. Additionally, the Gires guide, Inclusivity – Supporting BAME Trans People offers practical tips, guidance, and resources dedicated to supporting the Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) trans population of Britain.