According to new data from the national LGBT+ youth organisation, BeLonG To Youth Services, 58% of LGBT+ youth find ‘coming out’ their biggest challenge.

For 58% of young people who access the organisation’s frontline services in Dublin, coming out as LGBT+ was their reason for reaching out for support. The organisation has experienced an 88% spike in demand for its vital services since the beginning of 2020 with LGBTI+ youth presenting with issues relating to coming out (58%), being transgender (18%), and mental health challenges (14%).

The Covid-19 pandemic has made it even harder for young people to reach out if they’re struggling with their sexuality or their gender identity, but BelongTo CEO Moninne Griffith wants to ensure all young people know that services are still out there and they’re not alone.

“The most important thing is to be kind to yourself,” said Griffith, on the subject of anyone who might be struggling with their identity. “Don’t rush yourself, breathe, do all that self-care stuff that’s shoved in our faces all the time.

“You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, you can take a bit of time and deserve a bit of time to have a think about this kind of stuff. You need to get to know yourself, and one way you can do this is reaching out to a service like BelongTo and speaking to us, or joining a group.”

BelongTo offers a range of different services and groups for young LGBT+ people or people who may be questioning their sexuality or identity. In the midst of restrictions many of their services have moved online, and they organise five weekly digital LGBT+ youth groups, each depending on your orientation or age, in order to help you mix with people going through the same thing you are. They also offer groups for new people who have come to BelongTo, so they can get to know the staff and service before diving headfirst into a youth group of peers.

“I think the groups are one of the most important things we run,” said Griffith. “Sometimes it’s the fear that you’re the only one going through this and having these thoughts, so when you meet other young people who are experiencing the same thing as you it can help reduce your anxiety around what’s going on with you and how you’re feeling at the moment.”

Griffith also wants to make it clear for anyone questioning that they may be LGBT+ that it’s okay not to know exactly how you feel or feel that one label doesn’t define you. “It’s okay to change your mind, it’s okay to explore, that’s what your adolescence is for!” Griffith said. “It’s about finding out about yourself.

“It’s natural, it’s normal, you’re not alone. Almost everyone has these thoughts, don’t beat yourself up about having them.”

BelongTo also offers support through their three youth workers, who are there to talk to people and answer any questions they may have or give them advice. They’re also there to help signpost them to support services, as LGBT+ youth often struggle with mental health issues. A study in 2012 found that LGBT+ young people suffered twice the level of self-harm, three times the level of attempted suicide and four times the level of severe/extremely severe

stress, anxiety and depression than the average non-LGBT+ young person. BelongTo can link people in with services like Pieta House and My Mind.

“And if you do discover you are LGBT+, there is a great community out there to support you,” said Griffith. “Research has actually shown that LGBT+ people over 25 are actually really happy about being LGBT+.

“There are so many amazing people, arts, culture, sports within the LGBT+ community to fill your life and make it rich. However you identify, you’re going to thrive.”

Christmas can be a hard time for everyone, including young people who may be struggling with their identity or their mental health. If you need to reach out urgently text the Irish Crisis Text Line on 50808.

Studies mentioned:

The LGBTIreland Report

My World Survey : National Study of Youth Mental Health in Ireland