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LGBTQ+ Mental Health: Insights From Dr. Douglas Knutson
Dr. Douglas Knutson lectures about LGBTQ+ Mental Health

As we celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride Month, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is honored to spotlight one of our distinguished Research Advisory Board members, Douglas Knutson, PhD. Dr. Knutson, an assistant professor and the director of the Diversity and Rural Advocacy Group at Oklahoma State University, is dedicated to advancing mental health equity within LGBTQ+ communities, particularly in rural areas. In a recent candid conversation, Dr. Knutson shared his insights, experiences and hopes for the future.

Recognizing Resilience

While acknowledging the need for support and resources for LGBTQ+ communities, Dr. Knutson emphasized the importance of celebrating their remarkable capacity, resistance, creativity and gender euphoria. “The mental health challenges faced by LGBTQ+ people are well documented,” he said. “But it’s essential to recognize the incredible resilience and beauty within LGBTQ+ communities.”

When it comes to support, Dr. Knutson said prevention is what often saves lives, especially for the most marginalized people in our society. It is MHFA intervention and prevention efforts that he said are key to keeping LGBTQ+ youth safe and thriving. “Suicide attempt rates in LGBTQ+ youth are alarmingly elevated relative to the national average. That is not because there is something wrong with being LGBTQ+, but coming out can expose youth to rejection, bullying and lots of stress that can be hard to deal with,” he said. “That is why I am so grateful for groups like MHFA and I feel honored to be part of the work they are doing.”

The Role of Affirming Adults and Accomplices

Reflecting on his work with LGBTQ+ youth in rural communities, Dr. Knutson highlighted the critical role of family acceptance in mental wellbeing while relaying a statistic from The Trevor Project. “Support from parents is essential. LGBTQ+ youth with accepting adults in their lives are 40% less likely to attempt suicide,” he said. His research with organizations like Payne County Youth Services focuses on empowering families through affirming parenting workshops to reduce suicide risk. “One of the most healing things parents can do for their LGBTQ+ youth is to hold them close and remind them often that they are loved,” he added.

He pointed out that programs like MHFA provide the information, skills and awareness essential to offering a supportive foundation for LGBTQ+ youth in crisis. Suicide prevention is not just about information delivery, it is about creating connections and community. In his work, Dr. Knutson has seen the power of positive resistance within LGBTQ+ communities. “Resilience evolves into resistance, enabling LGBTQ+ youth to push back against oppressive systems,” he said. He advocates for supporting movements that embrace differences and the discomfort that can stem from driving meaningful change.

“It’s about moving beyond symbolic gestures to direct action.”

Dr. Knutson

Through research conducted with Laina Nelson, a doctoral candidate at Oklahoma State University, Dr. Knutson has explored the journey from being an ally to an accomplice and what this means for LGBTQ+ advocacy. The findings indicate that people who identify as LGBTQ+ experience a difference between indirect and direct acts of allyship. “It’s about moving beyond symbolic gestures to direct action,” he explained. “True accomplices actively challenge systems of oppression and advocate for equity.”

His insights inspire allies to stand in solidarity with LGBTQ+ communities and drive tangible progress. “That takes bravery and commitment,” he said, noting how the MHFA program is taking that direct action. “I have a great deal of respect for MHFA frontline workers who are willing to do the hard work to keep our communities safe.”

It all starts with education, and Dr. Knutson continually shares resources to support LGBTQ+ communities, allies and accomplices. From affirming parenting guides to resilience workbooks, his recommendations empower people to understand, embrace and support LGBTQ+ identities. He also shared the example of MHFA and other projects that, while designed to reduce stress and heal, have inclusivity at the heart of their initiatives. “Every life is valuable and worth saving,” he said.

Through his passion for research and advocacy and his commitment to LGBTQ+ mental health, Dr. Knutson is helping foster greater inclusion across the country “Together, we can create safer and more inclusive spaces for everyone,” he said.

To learn more about and access Dr. Knutson’s valuable work, visit the Health, Education and Rural Empowerment (HEaRE) Lab’s website.

Additional resources recommended by Dr. Knutson:

Counseling in a Gender-expansive World: Resources to Support Therapeutic Practice helps therapists, supervisors and trainees increase their competence and confidence in working with transgender and gender expansive clients. It provides resources informed by evidence-based practice, studies on intersectionality, and social justice and advocacy movements. This book is a useful supplement to clinical work with transgender and gender expansive people, especially for the many clinicians who work in regions with limited gender-inclusive resources.

The Queer and Transgender Resilience Workbook helps individuals explore their identities and build important resilience skills.

Parenting Trans and Nonbinary Youth is free and provides parents of trans and nonbinary youth information and concrete examples for practicing affirming parenting skills.

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