Embrace the Journey campaign
Embrace the Journey campaign

In the United States, high school students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) are almost five times more likely to attempt suicide than their cisgender, heterosexual peers, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

A new campaign is attempting to change that statistic in the Louisville area.

“Embrace the Journey,” led by Ryan Combs, PhD, assistant professor, University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences, and Maurice Gattis, PhD, associate professor, UofL Kent School of Social Work, began with one question: “How can we make a difference in LGBTQ mental health?”

“We wanted to understand the health needs of LGBTQ adolescents in Louisville. We learned that the largest concern locally is mental health, especially depression, anxiety and suicidality,” Combs said. “We designed a campaign to target parents because they play such a key role in the mental health of LGBTQ youth.”

In 2017, UofL’s LGBTQ+ Adolescent Health Study was launched – the first of its kind in Louisville. The study found 100 percent of participants had heard homophobic or transphobic language, 61 percent felt unsafe and 27 percent had experienced physical violence at school. To combat these findings, “Embrace the Journey” was developed through the guidance of local health providers, public health professionals, LGBTQ+ youth and community members.

The campaign launched recently, as organizers spoke to participants and handed out posters at Louisville Pride. The posters read: “LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and suicide – supportive parents greatly reduce this risk.”

Through the campaign’s website, embracethejourneylou.org, parents can find hundreds of resources, including advice from other parents, personal narratives from youth and a glossary of LGBTQ vocabulary.

The campaign was developed with grant funding from both the Cooperative Consortium Transdisciplinary Social Justice Research and JustFundKY, and operates closely with Louisville Youth Group.

“Though educating their parents can’t solve everything LGBTQ+ youth face, it’s a great place to start especially when the statistics speak so loudly for themselves,” Combs said. “When parents support their kids, youth have better mental health outcomes.”