by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
On April 2, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM) issued a new position paper designed to illustrate best practices to promote the health and wellbeing of LGBT adolescents.
In addition to typical health issues common in adolescence, LGBT teens often face additional challenges due to the complexity of the coming-out process, as well as societal discrimination and bias against sexual and gender minorities, said SAHM in a media release.
While the majority of LGBT adolescents are happy and well-adjusted teenagers, many of them can find themselves victims of bullying, discrimination, and rejection from both their friends and families, said Dr. David Reitman, an adolescent medicine specialist in Washington, D.C., and lead author of the position paper. This position statement is designed to provide practitioners, educators, and policy makers a framework for how to best provide care and develop policies which will help sexual minority youth reach their full potential as adults. As the leading organization dedicated to the health of adolescents, it is important and significant that SAHM has taken a strong stand on the unique issues affecting the adolescent LGBT population.
The statement stresses the vital roles that these practitioners, educators, policy makers, and researchers can play in promoting healthy development for LGBT youth.
MOST ARE WELL-ADJUSTED
Health care providers should understand that the majority of LGBT young people are healthy and well-adjusted teenagers and young adults, SAHM believes. The high-risk behaviors exhibited by some LGBT teens more often reflect reactions to social stigma and non-acceptance by peers and society.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are dynamic constructs, SAHM highlights in the paper. Health care providers, educators, policy makers, and researchers should be cautious in assigning labels to an adolescent's sexual orientation, because this may evolve over time. Providers should ask adolescents how they self-identify and should be guided by the youth's language and self-concept.
Family connectedness and support are important protective factors against depression, drug use, and high-risk sexual behavior in LGBT adolescents. However, practitioners also should understand that not all LGBT adolescents may be ready to disclose their sexuality to their family. SAHM recommends that when LGBT teens decide to disclose their sexuality or gender identity, providers should aim to assist families with acceptance of their LGBT teenagers.
THE EFFECTS OF BULLYING
LGBT youth may be at increased risk of bullying and victimization by peers and adults, including teachers, coaches, and family members. Such victimization is associated with an increased risk for depression and suicide, says SAHM.
Health care providers should be comfortable discussing these issues with their LGBT patients and should take an active role in educating the schools and community on prevention efforts to prevent and stop victimization. The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine believes that sexual minority adolescents should have full and appropriate legal protection from victimization under both local and federal laws.
Because victimized LGBT youth are at increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts, providers should screen for these mental health issues and intervene as appropriate, they also assert.
In addition, SAHM says, antidiscrimination policies should be implemented to protect LGBT youth in foster-care settings. Municipalities should disseminate policy guidelines to ensure appropriate care for LGBT youth in out-of-home venues.
GOOD AND BAD THERAPY
Also highlighted were, For youth who are struggling with sexual orientation or gender identity, affirmative therapeutic approaches can help adolescents explore their identities in a healthy manner. Reparative therapy, which attempts to change one's sexual orientation or gender identity, is inherently coercive and inconsistent with current standards of medical care.
The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine is a multidisciplinary organization of health professionals who are committed to advancing the health and wellbeing of adolescents. Through education, research, clinical services, and advocacy activities, members of SAHM strive to enhance public and professional awareness of adolescent health issues among families, educators, policy makers, youth-serving organizations, and students who are considering a health career, as well as other health professionals. Learn more at www.adolescenthealth.org.
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