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‘It’s important for them to know that it’s not just them’New group support for LGBT+ youth offering

So many youth are struggling with mental health problems this year.

Well before the pandemic, New Bedford youth in the city’s Shannon Project were facing trauma that challenged their mental and emotional well-being, and COVID-19 has only made it worse, according to Program Director Renee Ledbetter.

I had a chance to talk to Renee recently about what she’s been seeing during the pandemic, how it has affected youth between the ages of 10 and 24 who participate in the program and about two new programs she is launching to better support them.

There’s a lot of anger and acting out, she said, and not all of it is being addressed. The Shannon Project works with youth ages 10-24 in the city, providing intervention services and support.

“These kids have lost friends to drug overdoses, lost family members to COVID, so there’s a lot going on with these kids that’s trauma-based and we’re just throwing them back into a school building and expecting them to act like they have some sense,” she said.

Instead, Renee wants to find ways to support youth in finding healthier ways to respond to the stressors and trauma they face.

For the first time, she is bringing in clinicians to offer group therapy, starting with a small group of LGBTQ+ youth as a pilot program and hoping to expand services in the near future including adding a support group for parents of program youth.

The pilot program just launched with a small group of five participants. Keeping it small was important for several reasons including the pandemic.

“Because of COVID, we’re trying to keep the numbers to a point where it’s not overwhelming and we’re not putting them at risk,” said Renee.

The group format was also important as a way to provide additional connections and understanding from their peers.

“It’s important for them to know that it’s not just them,” she said. “That there are other people and that they have a support system outside of the official authorized person...Other kids that are like them that when they need somebody to talk to they always have somebody to talk to and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a clinician or a staff member.”

“It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” she added.

Renee is also determined to help parents however she can, because by helping them she is strengthening their support for their children.

“My thinking is that if you don’t help the whole family, you’re kind of only making half of a dent,” she said.

This program might help parents find employment, or apply for educational programs, whatever is needed most.

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