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Health & Prevention Report: Mental health therapist explains why it's important to create safe spaces for LGBTQ+ kids in Montezuma County

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Liz Filas says creating safe, accepting spaces is important to help address high rates of mental health issue among LGBTQ youth.

Research shows that LGBTQ+ youth have higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicide than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. On this week’s health and prevention report, KSJD’s Lucas Brady Woods talked to Liz Filas, a mental health therapist with the Four Corners Child Advocacy Center, to break down what that correlation means and why it's important to understand.

Lucas Brady Woods, KSJD News: Thanks so much for joining us here at K KSJD News.

Liz Filas, Mental Health Therapist: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

KSJD News: There are a lot of studies that show LGBTQ youth have higher rates of anxiety and depression than their non LGBTQ peers. And I just saw a study from the Trevor Project that says nearly half of LGBTQ youth in the US seriously considered suicide in the last year. Can you talk about why that correlation may exist? And where does it come from?

Filas: Well, I think the one that you're referencing also talked about COVID-19. So that was impactful on all our youth - the isolation. But when you talk specifically about LGBTQ+, you have kind of those same effects. So, more isolation. They might not have the support system, or even the resources that other heterosexual youth may have. Then, some other things. They have higher rates of hate crimes as well. And so it's not just being isolated, not having resources, it's also kids who are actively experiencing hate.

KSJD News: Let's take a step back here. Why is it important to consider the mental health vulnerabilities of LGBTQ kids that we've been discussing?

Filas: It's important to think about those mental health issues, because many times they have higher rates of suicide, or mental health disorders. And so that's just not saying like, "Oh, if you identify as LGBTQ, oh, automatically, you're suicidal" or something like that. It's that these kids many times lack resources, and lack diversity and inclusion policies that would allow them to feel included or allow them to feel like a member of the community, so to speak. So especially, I think, when you look at Montezuma County, we have one of the highest rates of suicide within the state. Then if you continue to break that down, and you see we have these populations that even have higher rates of suicide than that, it's important that we look at those populations and say, "What can we do to support them? What resources can we put in place to support them?" Because now we have these facts, we have these statistics that show us this is a marginalized community. And they are struggling with their mental health, and they're actually dying.

KSJD News: I don't know if you've heard, this family friendly event that was scheduled at the Cortez Public Library to celebrate Pride Month was just cancelled due to intimidation from some community members. Why is representation like that important, in even just a small Pride Month event? Why is representation like that important for young people, especially LGBTQ youth?

Filas: Not only does it show that you're not alone, it shows that you have allies. So, having an event like that at the library, a community location - anybody can go to the library, it's encouraged to go to the library. So having an event like that just kind of shows that, "Okay, we hear you, we see you, we support you." And to have something like that canceled, it's kind of counteractive to that message of "We hear you, we see, we support you." It's not just an event like that during pride month, it's everywhere. If you have organizations, if you have companies in the area that even just show a pride flag, that's saying, "I'm an ally, and I care about you, I see you, I want you to be seen." I think it just, it would show kids that they're safe, and the library is a safe place. We're saying it's a family place, we want families to go, we want to support you and we want you to know that you are safe when you are here.

KSJD News: What can be done to prevent LGBTQ youth from suffering from these mental health issues, like anxiety and depression? For example, on a community level, or on an individual level? What what are some of the things that that this community or individuals can do?

Filas: I think just having open conversations with individuals, showing support, asking how people are doing when we see our peers struggling. When we know something's going on. You know, just asking, "How are you?" And saying, "I love and support you, and I care about you, and I want to help you." How can we create spaces that are safe and inclusive in our community that show that we love kids, we love all our kids, and we care about their safety, we care that they have a sense of belonging. Creating these spaces for kids that are safe and that are inclusive are things that we can do in the community, or the school can do in our community. And I do feel like there are some organizations within our community that are asking that same question or trying to figure out how they can do that.

Filas: In the coming months, coming years, what are your hopes for the young LGBTQ population here in Montezuma County?

KSJD News: Oh, there are so many hopes. You know, I would love to see bigger youth groups, pride youth groups, supporting each other. I would love to see events led by youth. I would love our LGBTQ youth be able to say, "I live in Montezuma County, and I feel so safe here and I feel like a member of this community in that I know that this community wants me to be a member." That is my hope for the youth, the LGBTQ youth.

Filas: Liz, thank you so much for sharing this important information with us and with the community.

KSJD News: Thanks for having me. I'm glad that we're talking about it.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and need immediate help call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or go online to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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Lucas is the News Director for KSJD Community Radio. His work focuses on serving the public of the Four Corners with responsible, factual reporting.