A couple years ago, Brendon Scholl was having a terrifying night.

They can't recall many of the details. "Most of it is just a big blur," says the now-17-year-old, who is transgender and non-binary, and uses they/them pronouns.

But they do remember crying hysterically, rattled by an inescapable sense of loneliness and an isolating anxiety that'd often accompany them to bed, when their friends were asleep and unreachable by text.

"I was in a really bad place," Scholl says. "I was kind of freaking out ... I was having a really hard time with [the idea that] people didn't want me around."



[rebelmouse-image 19346007 dam="1" original_size="589x617" caption="Brendon Scholl's aunt happens to be singer Jennifer Lopez, who bragged about Scholl's achievements on Instagram in July 2017. Photo via Jennifer Lopez/Instagram." expand=1]Brendon Scholl's aunt happens to be singer Jennifer Lopez, who bragged about Scholl's achievements on Instagram in July 2017. Photo via Jennifer Lopez/Instagram.


Scholl's scary night reflects a much larger issue at hand: a generation of young queer people whose mental health desperately needs to be addressed in serious, systemic ways.

According to a report published in May from the Human Rights Campaign and researchers at the University of Connecticut, an alarming 95% of LGBTQ teens said they, like Scholl, have trouble sleeping at night. 77% reported feeling depressed or "down" during the week. Only about one-fourth reported feeling safe in their schools, and a similarly sobering number claimed they could "definitely" be themselves at home.

Plenty of policy victories and improving media visibility have helped grow Americans' acceptance of LGBTQ people in recent decades.

So why do statistics like these remain staggeringly high among queer kids like Scholl?

"It's complex," answers Amit Paley, CEO of The Trevor Project — a suicide prevention and crisis intervention nonprofit for LGBTQ youth. "There are a lot of reasons that young people need help and are reaching out."

For starters, LGBTQ youth aren't insulated from America's larger, worsening suicide crisis, Paley says. Between 1999 and 2016, overall rates of suicide rose — and often dramatically — in almost every U.S. state, according to new data from the CDC. What's more, in its newly released "Youth Risk Behavior Survey," the CDC found 23% of high school students who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual have attempted suicide.

That's four-times the rate of their straight peers.

Other research suggests the figure is even higher among transgender and non-binary teens, like Scholl.

[rebelmouse-image 19346008 dam="1" original_size="750x479" caption="Chart via the CDC." expand=1]Chart via the CDC.

Entrenched anti-LGBTQ attitudes in schools, churches, and homes continue compounding issues associated with mental illness among queer teens too.

In Scholl's case, it's easy to see how. "I remember very vividly my grandma calling me and being like, 'I'll give you a $100 if you go back to being a girl,'" they recall. "I didn't even know what to say, really."

Those attitudes have been around for awhile, sure. But now, LGBTQ kids have Trump to worry about too.

Call volume to The Trevor Project more than doubled the day after the 2016 presidential election, according to Paley. LGBTQ kids were terrified by the rhetoric they'd heard from Trump on the campaign trail.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The flow of calls coming in has remained relatively high ever since too, thanks in part to a divisive 24/7 news cycle with bigotry on full display.

When the fight over LGBTQ rights has gotten heated in the headlines — like the day the president tweeted that transgender people would be banned from serving in the military, or when Texas debated whether to implement a transphobic bathroom bill — The Trevor Project noticed spikes in need from the kids they're aiming to protect.

"We know that words have consequences," Paley says. "We know that hateful policies have consequences."

Across the various crisis lines young people can use to contact the nonprofit —along with its 24/7 phone hotline, The Trevor Project also operates a text service and online chat platform — Paley says the organization estimates it will make contact with young people in crisis about 75,000 times this year alone.

That's an increase from last year, and one reason the group is focused on expanding services and programs for youth across the country.

At a time when we seem to be moving ahead on LGBTQ issues in many ways, the need to take care of young queer kids has never been greater.

"Our ultimate goal is to put ourselves out of business," Paley notes. But that seems unlikely in the short-term. So The Trevor Project aims high.

The nonprofit wanted to raise a record-breaking $2 million to further its mission through Trevor Live — the group's annual, star-studded fundraising gala — on June 11. It exceeded that ambitious target, but it's a bittersweet benchmark to pass, knowing why those funds are so needed.

Trevor Live was hosted by openly gay Olympians Gus Kenworthy and Adam Rippon. Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for The Trevor Project.

There are still too many kids who, in a moment of crisis, desperately need Trevor to be one call, text, or online chat away. Kids just like Scholl — who decided to use the group's text service that awful night a couple years ago for help.

"They got back to me immediately and helped me feel a lot less alone," Scholl explains. "Even if I get that bad again, [I know] I'm not going to be completely alone."

Now, Scholl is out and proud — and refusing to stay silent.

They're out to their family. And their friends have been "super great" about respecting their pronouns and identity as a non-binary person.

At Trevor Live, Scholl bravely shared their story to a room full of celebrities and supporters. The speech was met with cheers and a standing ovation.

A vicious political climate and lack of mental health resources may mean kids like Scholl live in an especially hostile environment. But LGBTQ teens — who are coming out earlier in life and reshaping how we see and respect gender and sexuality — are also totally badass.

Scholl walks the Trevor Live red carpet. Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for The Trevor Project.

Scholl, a high school junior, now has their sights set on another big hurdle drawing nearer: college admissions.

They're determined to find the right school with a welcoming environment for LGBTQ students, equipped with gender-neutral housing. That's not a terribly easy feat, to be sure — "I'm excited, but also stressed," Scholl admits of the process — but it's one worth working for.

It's another mountain they're determined to climb.

"I know it's like the most cliche thing to say ever, but it does get better," Scholl says. "It's like, when you're going up a hill: You're tired, it feels like it's going on forever, and you're never going to get to the top. But once you do, you look back, and you're like ... 'I made it that whole way.'"  

Watch Scholl speak at Trevor Live below:

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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