"Mental Health is Part of Our Lives"
Mile High Behavioral Healthcare is Transforming Mental Health for Local LGBTQ+ Youth
Note: This blog post is part of a series featuring community members that will be honored at the Transformation event on September 30, which is a fun and inspiring brunch that celebrates the power to transform lives in the LGBTQ community. Get Tickets >
Despite gains in LGBTQ+ legal equality and social acceptance in recent decades, youth who identify as LGBTQ+ still face a host of barriers that make growing up particularly challenging.
Consider the following statistics that underscore the mental health challenges faced by LGBTQ+ youth:
- 34% of LGB youth report having been bullied at school, and 28% report experiencing electronic abuse
- Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average
- LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth
- 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt, and 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25
- 51% of teen transgender males and 42% of non-binary teens have attempted suicide
Given this disheartening information, it’s no wonder that Rainbow Alley prides itself on being not just a safe space, but a “brave space.” Rainbow Alley is The Center’s program for LGBTQ+ youth ages 11-21, and the word “brave” is used often and intentionally to honor the youth of Rainbow Alley for the courageous choices they make every day to navigate a world that marginalizes their experience. The adult staff at Rainbow Alley – Nadine Bridges, MSW, Director of Youth Services, and Hope Anderson, MSW, Engagement Coordinator – work to cultivate an environment where youth understand the power in their voice and know they deserve to be seen and heard.
"Stigma shouldn’t even be the word. We talk about working out, eating healthy, nutrition, taking a shower. But, no one ever talks about the fact that if you can’t help yourself internally, how can you help yourself externally? We try to create that space for them here." - Nadine Bridges, MSW
Rainbow Alley provides an array of programs for LGBTQ+ youth – movie nights, gender-affirming haircuts, drag shows, summer camp, and a leadership council are just a handful of the activities that fill up the daily calendar schedule. However, until partnering with Mile High Behavioral Healthcare (MHBHC) a few years ago, youth previously did not have access to mental health care in the space.
“All of these programs are important, but they would be insignificant if we were not also providing mental health services,” Hope says. “We hear from concerned family or friends or counselors who are worried about young LGBTQ+ people dealing with anxiety, identity, depression, or low self-esteem. They always ask the cost of therapy or explain what they can afford. Most times, they are shocked to hear that we can offer our youth free therapy.”
Chalk art with a positive message greets youth visiting Rainbow Alley. Youth in the program decorate the space themselves.
Now, Zane Guilfoyle, LPC, is one of three therapists provided by MHBHC that spend time at Rainbow Alley every week, ensuring that youth always have access to free, affirming therapy. It’s practically unheard of for LGBTQ+ youth to have that resource, and it can be life-changing – if not life-saving. Doing this work fits into MHBHC’s mission “to provide a caring, seamless continuum of behavioral healthcare to those in need.”
“All of these programs are important, but they would be insignificant if we were not also providing mental health services." - Hope Anderson, MSW
Zane says, “It’s a very powerful experience. At the end of the day, what my work reinforces to me, in working with our community, is that we are a tenacious community. We are survivors, and we do thrive even if the world specifically tries to attack us or eradicate us. We have the ability to survive and move beyond that. But, it can be made easier, and I think that’s what behavioral health does. And, having an amazing community, like Rainbow Alley, is important.”
Youth will often come into Rainbow Alley despondent and lacking the skills to communicate effectively about what they are going through. Nadine says that she can see the change after youth have access to therapy.
“Now that we have these incredible therapists around, the youth understand that it’s about taking care of themselves. We are able to smash the whole idea around stigma. Stigma shouldn’t even be the word. We talk about working out, eating healthy, nutrition, taking a shower. But, no one ever talks about the fact that if you can’t help yourself internally, how can you help yourself externally? We try to create that space for them here,” says Nadine.
In helping to “smash” stigma around mental health struggles, MHBHC has made an impact in the space that is felt well beyond the therapy office.
“Mental health is part of our lives and it should not be stigmatized, and the stigma behind it brings shame. For me, what shame means is, it’s not 'I did something wrong', but it’s ‘I am inherently flawed or wrong.’” - Zane Guilfoyle, LPC
Nadine and Hope believe that youth in the program have come to see the therapists as part of the Rainbow Alley family. Zane agrees, and sees a lot of benefit of being in the space with the youth every day.
“Being within the space shows our humanity. We can relate to each other on fundamental levels, whether it’s over an awesome anime or taste of music or living in Colorado. Having those conversations within the space is helpful, and it models accessibility to mental health care. We’re human, too. We’re not some scary enigma behind a closed door,” says Zane.
Hope adds, “Plus, I think seeing queer adults thriving in the behavioral health field and using their time to give back is super inspiring for the youth.”
Information about mental health and LGBTQ+ resources are integrated into the space in Rainbow Alley.
Looking forward, MHBHC hopes to continue to expand access to behavioral health care for LGBTQ youth who attend Rainbow Alley. MHBHC typically provides each of their clients with a primary therapist, a case manager, and a peer coach. One day, Zane hopes that those services can be expanded into Rainbow Alley, as well. He also discusses the need to incorporate more holistic approaches to behavioral health, such as a psychiatrist to prescribe medications and offering other treatment methodologies, such as nutritional guidance, acupuncture, or acid therapy.
And, helping LGBTQ+ youth early on with mental health challenges is not just the right thing to do, it is also the right time to do it. Zane believes there is a great opportunity to make an impact teaching youth how to have healthy coping skills and a more positive outlook before the brain is fully developed. “We know if we can get them into healthier mental health states earlier in life, they are more likely to be a healthier adult later on. The brain does the most development from birth until the age of 25. There is still a lot of neuroplasticity in the brain, and a lot of changes can be made.”
That change is definitely being made, something Nadine can attest to. “MHBHC understands the importance of healing from within. They understand that it is important to combat insecurities and harmful emotions for young folks to thrive and create opportunity for life success. I mean we all need that...right?”