Community Spotlight: Forging connection with the LGBTQ+ youth

The impact of COVID-19 took a toll on many people’s mental health — but was especially tough on certain communities, such as LGBTQ+ youth. Even prior to the pandemic, the risk of depression and anxiety can be significantly higher among this population, which is only exacerbated by physical isolation. This also made it challenging to find positive social connections for them to feel safe and supported.

For example, the Trevor Project performed a 2021 survey on LGBTQ+ youth and mental health and found that:

  • 42% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year
  • Nearly half of LGBTQ+ youth wanted mental health counseling, but didn’t receive it
  • 70% of LGBTQ+ youth said their mental health was “poor” during the pandemic
  • More than 80% of LGBTQ+ youth said the pandemic made their living situation more stressful

To help address the great needs of this community, UnitedHealth Group donated $400,000 to the Center on Colfax, an LGBTQ+ community center in Denver. The grant is part of a $30 million effort by the Rocky Mountain Health Plan to target mental health and education efforts for young people across the state of Colorado.

The funding will help expand programming through online support and social groups, such as the Rainbow Alley — an affirming environment for LGBTQ+ youth. The grant allows the Center to widen their reach with a more focused experience for older teens and young adults, from ages 16 to 23, called the Rainbow Bridge. This will include everything from career guidance and mentorship to providing drop-in spaces — proving the needed support and acceptance while becoming a young adult. While all events have been virtual during the pandemic, they are still highly impactful.

“We want to be there for them and make sure they’re not alone,” said Joe Foster, vice president of development and communication at The Center.

The increased virtual access during a difficult time has proved to be a silver lining. The Center was able to expand their offerings throughout the state, beyond their typical local outreach, and hope to continue both online and in-person experiences for the range of young adults they serve and support.

“Every school in Colorado is aware that this is for them,” Joe said, “and this is a safe space.”

Ultimately, the grant’s purpose is not just to help empower LGBTQ+ youth during the pandemic, but for the long term — allowing them to grow and thrive to create a more welcoming, accommodating space for the whole community.

“What I hope this grant helps with, is that LGBTQ+ youth know they have a chance, and they are not alone,” Joe said. “They can continue to build upon what they have accomplished in their lives. That they know they will always have support.”

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