MANKATO — Health disparities between LGBT youth and their peers are well documented, prompting Open Door Health Center to start a support group for area teens last year.

The free group meets the first Monday of each month and is led by a trained mental health professional.

Jeni Kolstad, behavioral health consultant and provider at the clinic, said the group draws inconsistent numbers so far but she hopes as word spreads it’ll pick up.

“We want to get more, and I know there are more out there,” she said.

The group isn’t just a chance to share experiences. By hosting it at a health center, it also introduces them to a future care option.

“As a medical community, as a whole, we haven’t done a really good job talking about the health disparities for LGBT people in general,” Kolstad said. “Even just recognizing Open Door is a safe space for LGBT people to get their health care is huge.”

Across the board, LGBT youth report worse health indicators than their heterosexual classmates. They’re more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol, less likely to be happy, more likely to attempt self-harm, and more likely to attempt suicide, according to the Mental Health America nonprofit.

More recent data from 2016’s Minnesota Student Survey expand further on transgender teen’s health gaps. The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics compiled the survey data of more than 80,000 Minnesota ninth- and 11th-graders in its own study on transgender and gender nonconforming student health released in its February edition. The results showed transgender and nonconforming youth have “significantly poorer health, lower rates of preventive health checkups and more nurse office visits than cisgender youth.”

The authors said the results highlight the importance of access to affordable, competent care services.

“However, historical marginalization in health care settings and a lack of competent providers create barriers to treatment and contribute to delayed access to care and longer-term health consequences,” they wrote.

At least one support group for LGBT people in the area already exists. Although it's open to all, the Rainbow Support Group mainly consists of adults at its monthly gatherings. 

Tina Hassing, a facilitator of the group, said she was happy to hear about a similar group starting for youth.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “I think the more groups there are, the better so it does become part of the natural fabric of the whole community."

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.

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