Statistically, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth are at a disproportionate risk for depression, suicide and substance abuse.
They also can feel isolated, alienated or bullied.
A new LGBT group for youth was started in the summer of 2017 at the Bert Nash Center to provide a support system so teenagers have a safe place to talk. Bert Nash also offers a support group for transgender adults.
“That was the motivation for the group, just kids needing a safer place,” said Lee Koch, a Bert Nash Child and Family Services case manager and one of the co-leaders of the LGBT group for youth. “The group allows us to talk about issues specific to them without the risk of the outside world. It gives them a chance to work on skills that are specific to what they need and things that they have dealt with, whether it’s being transgender or transitioning, or being gay and their parents not accepting it. It gives them a chance to get together and talk about things that directly affect them.”
One group member said, “Group has helped me make friends and talk about things we can relate to.”
The LGBT group for youth meets weekly, including during the summer months, except during school breaks. Transportation to the Bert Nash Center is provided, if needed.
“We started seeing a lot of need for this group,” said Sunnie Shedd, a Bert Nash Child and Family Services therapist, who is the other co-leader of the LGBT group for youth. “We were seeing a lot of clients who could benefit from having the support of a psychosocial group like this. A lot of LGBT youth struggle with depression and anxiety symptoms, isolation, or they struggle with suicidal ideation or self-harming behaviors.”
Shedd said her co-leader, Koch, has been the driving force behind the group.
“He’s the creative mind behind it,” Shedd said. “He brings a lot of passion to the group.”
Child and Family Services Director Stephen O’Neill said, “I am proud of Sunnie and Liam and the support they are extending to children and youth. We are committed to ensuring we are offering support to our LGBT friends, family, and neighbors.”
Koch and Shedd have spent the past year getting the word out about the LGBT group for youth, working in conjunction with the Bert Nash WRAP (Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities) therapists, who are in direct contact with students in the Lawrence school system.
“The WRAP therapists are in the schools and if they interact with a student who isn’t a Bert Nash client they can let them know that this is something that we offer,” Shedd said. “Then the student can come in and do an intake with a Bert Nash clinician and attend the group only, if that’s what they want to do. But they have to do an intake in order to participate in the group.”
The curriculum for the LGBT group for youth changes from month to month and can also include an outside activity.
“A lot of our kids struggle with making friends and recognizing appropriate social relationships,” Koch said. “All of the issues we talk about are relevant to the LGBT community.”