By Katalina Hadfield and Ellen Kahn
Staying home all day is hard. You are separated from your friends, your communities and sometimes even your family. And for transgender and gender-expansive youth, this isolation can be amplified as stay-at-home orders for COVID-19 rattle the United States.
In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, the HRC Foundation released a pair of resources to help parents and other family members promote the emotional well-being of their children. The resources include a video conversation between Ellen Kahn, HRC’s senior director of programs and partnerships, and Dr. Scott Leibowitz, child and adolescent psychiatrist, where they discuss the many ways in which parents, guardians and other family and community members can support transgender and gender-expansive young people and their mental health while at home. HRC Foundation also produced an accompanying tip sheet, providing information for parents on how they can help their children maintain and manage their mental health during COVID-19.
For transgender and gender-expansive youth who do not feel affirmed or accepted by members of their immediate family or household, this period of being “stuck at home” can be challenging. The stress of rejection can lead to a wide range of outcomes, such as not being able to focus on schoolwork, feeling isolated and hopeless, and — in worst-case scenarios — these youth may face emotional or physical abuse in the home.
“They’re trapped at home and need to look for ways to develop social support,” said Dr. Leibowitz. He emphasizes that one way to combat this and many other problems youth may face is by “empathizing with the young person’s situation...Try asking the young person how you will be helpful to them.”
For those youth who are supported at home, but typically feel the challenges of rejection and bullying when in school, this extended period of time outside of the school setting can feel positive, and lower their levels of anxiety.
“For kids who are trans or gender-expansive who are ‘free to be’ at home, this is a liberating time,” said Kahn. “You’re four or five or six weeks into quarantine and you’ve been able to be yourself without limitation.”
“Many of my patients are actually flourishing, they’re thriving in this time,” said Dr. Leibowitz. “However, life will return back to normal at some point.”
Dr. Leibowitz and Kahn agree that the dread of returning to normal life may evoke anxiety for youth.
“There’s this looming like oh my gosh, but someday this is going to go back to normal,” said Kahn.
According to Dr. Leibowitz, this anxiety may be mitigated by capturing a youth’s feelings at this current moment, so they can remember what they feel like when they are being themselves and can learn to adapt to living life differently.
“If we can take this opportunity now to understand how we adapt in different places, where we can be authentic, where we can’t, it will prepare us even better for that return ‘back to normal,” he said.
You can learn more about these issues, along with others that transgender and gender-expansive youth may face, by checking out our tip sheet and video. For even more information about supporting transgender and gender-expansive youth both in and out of quarantine, check out more of HRC Foundation’s resources here