Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, the D.C.-based organization that provides support services and leadership opportunities to LGBTQ youth in the District’s metropolitan area, has begun offering free mental health counseling to its clients, who range in age from age 6-24.
The counseling, which is available through SMYAL’s new Clinical Services Department, seeks to provide culturally competent and affirming support to LGBTQ youth suffering from trauma, stress, or engaging in negative risk behaviors. The Clinical Services Department is housed in SMYAL’s Eastern Market offices, which includes two private therapy rooms.
The counseling program is led by a licensed director of clinical services, who oversees other clinicians and well as interns who are in training to become LGBTQ-affirming therapists. The program will offer bilingual services to clients in individual talk therapy sessions and group sessions, as well as alternative therapies.
Services began being offered earlier this month, on Oct. 4. SMYAL hopes to serve around 50 youth each week going forward. Mental health services offered through the program will be free of charge.
SMYAL also recently obtained $100,000 in funding for its Clinical Services Department for the next three years after being selected as the Long-Term Service Partner of the Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C. Additional funding will be provided through grant money from the Youth Services Department of the D.C. Department of Human Services and from donations from longtime SMYAL supporters.
“The Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C.’s commitment to providing programs and opportunities in support of children in the District is centered on meeting youth where they need us the most,” Steven McCarty, the club’s president, said in a statement. “We’re incredibly excited to partner with SMYAL, strengthen our advocacy for LGBTQ youth, and save lives through our partnership.”
Various surveys and studies have shown that LGBTQ youth are disproportionately at risk of experiencing anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and homelessness, as well as negative coping mechanisms, such as drug and alcohol use or disengagement from school or social activities compared to their straight and cisgender peers. LGBTQ youths’ mental health may also be compounded by intersectional challenges based on their sexual orientation or gender identity as well as their race, socioeconomic status, immigration status, gender expression, or other identities. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic, political debates targeting or scapegoating trans youth, and racially-motivated acts of violence have exacerbated those stressors.
According to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 42% of LGBTQ youth have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth. Nearly 7 in 10 LGBTQ youth reported that their mental health was “poor” most of the time or always during the pandemic.
Additionally, nearly half of LGBTQ youth reported they wanted to seek out counseling from a mental health professional but were unable to receive it during the past year. In many cases, LGBTQ youth may struggle finding the correct therapist because they are unable to find one that is LGBTQ-affirming, is available to see new patients, and accepts insurance, as many do not — a problem that SMYAL hopes to resolve to ensure the youth it serves can be connected with the mental health services they need.
“This program helps deepen SMYAL’s impact on the lives of LGBTQ youth by ensuring they have additional tools and resources that understand and affirm who they are, provide culturally competent care, and provide that care in a welcoming way,” Sultan Shakir, the executive director of SMYAL, said in a statement.
“The SMYAL Clinical Services Department will provide an affirming physical space so that the youth we serve can grow into the practice of loving themselves,” added Jorge Membreño, a licensed clinical social worker who serves as the Director of Clinical Services. “Many of our queer and trans youth have felt isolated within their own thoughts, their families, and/or the world around them. We will walk with humility through their lives and help them heal.”
For more information on SMYAL and its various programs, visit www.smyal.org.
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