Posted: 20 Jun. 2023 5 min. read

The Trevor Project helps LBGTQ young people feel safe, accepted

10 questions for The Trevor Project’s Dr. Ronita Nath

By Jerry Bruno, Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Trevor, a 1994 Academy Award-winning short film, depicts the life of a gay 13-year-old boy who attempts suicide after being bullied and rejected by friends over his sexuality.1 In 1998, shortly before the film was scheduled to air on HBO, the filmmakers worried that young viewers might not have someone to confide in if they struggled with similar issues. They launched The Trevor Project, a non-profit organization focused on mental health and suicide prevention among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) young people. The Trevor Lifeline became the first nationwide, 24-hour crisis and suicide-prevention helpline for LGBTQ youth.2 Over the last year, the organization says it has responded to about 263,000 phone calls, texts, and chats. The organization’s philosophy is “no crisis is too small.”

More than 40% of young people who define themselves as LGBTQ have considered suicide in the past year, and 56% of people who sought help couldn’t find it, according to the results of a recent survey conducted by The Trevor Project.3 The Deloitte Health Equity Institute (DHEI) recently committed to a $1 million contribution to the Trevor Project to help fund crisis counseling services, a web-based chat and supported phone line, and other services. The funding, which is expected to be used over the next two years, is also intended to recruit and train counselors.

The DHEI is supporting The Trevor Project in its mission to build a safer, more-inclusive world, and wanted to highlight some of the work that makes this mission real for the young people that The Trevor Project supports. I had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Ronita Nath, the Trevor Project’s vice president of research. Here is an excerpt from that conversation:

Jerry: Could you describe how The Trevor Project builds awareness for the specific needs of the LGBTQ community and how critical that is to your organization’s mission?

Ronita: We have doubled down on efforts to increase awareness of our support services to young people. We have published research and released data that we hope will help policymakers, the media, and other important stakeholders understand the scope of mental health and raise awareness about ways to support LGBTQ young people.

Jerry: What do see as some of the barriers that might make it difficult for young LGBTQ people to access mental and behavioral health care?

Ronita: Despite the prevalence of anxiety, depression, and suicide risk among LGBTQ young people, many of them are not able to access the mental health care they need. Tangible barriers can include a lack of health insurance, no access to reliable transportation for in-person visits, or limited access to reliable internet for virtual care. Stigma and fear can also keep young people from accessing mental health care. Almost half of the people we surveyed nationally said they are afraid to talk about their mental health concerns. They often do not want to seek permission from a parent or caregiver to access that care. Some of them are just afraid that they won’t be taken seriously. It is important that we have these conversations. As a society, I think we need to raise awareness and visibility of mental health to break down these barriers while also investing in our systems of care.

Jerry: Why is it important for communities, businesses organizations to collaborate with the Trevor Project, and to support its mission?

Ronita: Collaboration with corporate businesses helps us amplify, expand, and grow our work and reach more people. This year marks the Trevor Project’s 25th anniversary. Over the years, we have relied on deep and powerful partnerships, collaborations, and community engagement. Our unique approach is centered around the principle that LGBTQ young people are part of the fabric of every community. We all have a role to play in helping to strengthen that fabric and create a better and more affirming world for LGBTQ young people. Our mission is to put an end to suicide among LGBTQ young people. To try to achieve that goal, we work with LGBTQ organizations, state and local coalitions, allied and supportive lawmakers, researchers, and school districts.

Jerry: What role can allies play in helping to create safe spaces in the community for LGBTQ young people?

Ronita: We all have a role to play in supporting the LGBTQ community. Allies should be public and unequivocal in demonstrating their support for the LGBTQ community. We need allies to stand proudly alongside us and the LGBTQ community. I urge people to reach out to the LGBTQ young people in their lives and send a message of support, just ask how they are doing, or what help they may need. Our research shows that reaching out can go a long way. Having just one accepting adult in the life of an LGBTQ young person can reduce the risk of attempted suicide by up to 40%.4 Be an accepting adult for the young people in your life.

Jerry: There has historically been a stigma around mental and behavioral health. Do you think it is becoming more acceptable for young people to seek the care they need?

Ronita: Over the past few years, we have seen a lot of gains in terms of destigmatizing mental health. But according to our research, many people are still afraid that their sexual orientation will be discovered or that they won’t be taken seriously. This fear remains a large barrier to seeking or accessing health care. While we have made some progress in the past few years, there's a lot of work that needs to be done. And our philosophy is that no crisis is too small or too large.

Jerry: How do you think can mental and behavioral health can be made more equitable for young LBGTQ people?

Ronita: Access to care across all diverse populations is important. Our survey results illuminated some disparities among LGBTQ young people, particularly those who have multiple marginalized identities. Those individuals tend to be at greater risk of suicide than their peers. Transgender and non-binary also report higher rates of poor mental health and have a higher risk of suicide compared to their cisgender LGBTQ peers. When we looked across race and ethnicity data, Black LBGTQ people were less likely than their White peers to have access to sufficient mental health care services. It is important to advocate for culturally competent and equitable health care.

Jerry: It has been nearly a year since 988, a national mental health crisis line, went into effect (see Can we build an equitable mental health ecosystem?). How does the Trevor Project envision crisis support evolving?

Ronita: The 988-crisis line was the result of powerful collaborations and multi-year advocacy efforts on behalf of the Trevor Project and other collaborating organizations. Earlier this year, 988 expanded to also provide 24/7 specialized services for the LGBTQ community. That means any LGBTQ young person in crisis, who calls or texts 988 for support, can opt to connect directly to a trained crisis counselor from the Trevor Project. They will be able to talk with someone who you know understands them and is uniquely trained and qualified to provide LGBTQ-inclusive crisis care services. 988 has also provided our nation with an important opportunity to reimagine what crisis care could look like if we build on the infrastructure to expand access to longer-term mental health and behavioral health care services.

Jerry: What do you think might help reduce the risk of suicide among young LGBTQ people?

Ronita: From our research, we know that the risk of suicide is lower among LGBTQ young people have access to gender-neutral bathrooms, safe spaces in their schools and homes, and have people around them who respect their pronouns. Many Americans report that they don't know a trans or non-binary young person. One of the biggest predictors of whether someone will be supportive of the trans community is whether they personally know a transgender person. 5 That’s why it is important to create awareness by highlighting the stories and experiences of this community. I believe this is a group of people who want nothing more than what everyone else wants: to live a happy and healthy life without being in fear.

Jerry: What message do you have for anyone who knows an LGBTQ young person who might be struggling with mental health issues, or might not feel safe?

Ronita: I would tell them to please reach out to one of our trained counselors via text chat or call if they would like someone to talk to. They need to know that they are not alone, and that help is available. 


1Trailer for "Trevor" the film, YouTube

2The Trevor Project for young LGBTQ lives

3The Trevor Project: National survey on mental health of LGBTQ young people, The Trevor Project, 2023

4Accepting Adults Reduce Suicide Attempts Among LGBTQ Youth, The Trevor Project, 2019

5New Poll: Majority of U.S. Adults Are Comfortable Having LGBTQ Children, Fewer than 1 in 3 Know Someone Who is Transgender, The Trevor Project, 2022

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Acknowledgments: Dewin Hernandez, Aaron Landrum

This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor.

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