Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health on Vashon Island

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal ideation you can call Crisis Connections or one of these lines for support:  

  • Children’s Crisis Outreach Services (CCORS), 206-461-3222    
  • Call a crisis line such as King County’s Crisis Line 206-461-3222 or visit, available 24/7, 365, to help link you to available and appropriate local resources; the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 988 or 800-273-8255; Trevor Project for LGBTQ youth at 1-866-488-7386; or text “HOME” to 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line. 

Young people across King County and the country are facing increasingly difficult mental health challenges. Young people who are in underserved communities, including LGBTQ+ and BIPOC young people, face even steeper challenges.  

According to King County’s Healthy Youth Survey, LGBTQ+ young people have an urgent need for mental health supports, with higher rates of suicidal ideation and attempts, and depression. King County is working with community partners to meet LGBTQ+ youth with needed resources, through programs that prioritize culturally relevant supports. 

When those working with young people on Vashon saw 2021 data showing a disproportionate number of LGBTQ+ public school students experienced a sense of not belonging, not being seen or heard, and a general lack of support, they wanted to take action to change that. Community partners on Vashon recognized these needs, and King County is able to support innovative programming there through a partnership between the Best Starts for Kids and MIDD initiatives.  

“By offering high-quality LGBTQI+ training to educators and school staff, we were able to help [Vashon Island School District] address concerns expressed by LGBTQI+ students and parents. While we have supported VISD in many other ways for several years, this was the first time we were able to directly address the district’s strategic plan goals on such large scale.” 

Jeni Johnson, Executive Director, Vashon Youth & Family Services 

Healthy Youth Survey—King County Youth Mental Health Data 

The newly released King County Healthy Youth Survey found that LGBTQ+ young people in our region are experiencing significantly higher rates of depression and suicidal ideation. 

In 2021, from the Healthy Youth Survey:  

  • Compared to the King County average (36%), transgender students experienced depressive symptoms at nearly twice the average rate (72%).  
  • Almost half of all transgender students (43%) have made a suicide plan and about 1 in 4 (24%) have attempted suicide.  
  • Almost half (41%) of students identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or something else fits better experienced suicidal ideation, while only 13% of heterosexual students did, data from 2018 and 2021 show. 

The Heathy Youth Survey is a survey of public school students in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12 which is conducted every other year. This survey is anonymous, student-reported, and available in five languages in 2021. Although there were some positive trends in protective factors for gender-diverse students from 2018-2021, it is still clear that transgender, questioning, and LBGTQ+ students are experiencing much worse mental health outcomes. 

You can explore the survey results yourself in detail here.  

King County Department of Community and Human Services and Public Health—Seattle & King County are working together to create a spectrum of supports, from prevention and early intervention, treatment, crisis services, and recovery and healing that prioritizes young people’s well-being, mental, emotional, and behavioral health.   

Many factors can shape the mental health of young people, and there are known protective factors to protect young peoples’ mental wellness that King County is working to support. One of those major positive, protective factors can be relationships with supportive adults and strong family connections. 

 From the Healthy Youth Survey, we know that two in three young people report having supportive adults in their lives and strong relationships with family. Although youth across the county and nation face mental health challenges, King County can make a positive difference through supports offered at the personal level of community and relationships.  

Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth on Vashon Island 

Vashon Youth & Family Services (VYFS) in collaboration with the Dove Project secured funding from King County MIDD’s Community Driven grants program, Best Starts for Kids, and the American Rescue Plan Act (as managed by MIDD) to support the mental health of LGBTQ+ young people on the island. VYFS is a community-based organization with a mission to foster a thriving community of emotionally healthy and resilient children, youth, adults and families. They offer services to Vashon Islanders including mental health counseling, enriching childcare, parent education, and crisis response.  

The project involved a three-pronged approach aimed at increasing supports for Vashon’s LGBTQ+ youth through:  

  1. Regular provider network meetings of organizations focused on addressing the needs of LGBTQ+ youth;  
  1. Training for service providers and educators on the best ways to support families of LGBTQ+ youth and foster gender inclusivity; and,  
  1. Educational tools for parents and the greater community to foster increased understanding, and inclusivity for LGBTQ+ youth.  

Trainings for Educators 

Vashon Youth & Family Services and the DOVE Project and the Gender Spectrum team partnered to develop the “Building a Gender Inclusive Community” training series to reach parents, educators, religious leaders, mental health professionals, health providers and other community members. 

Educators and school counselors had the largest and most consistent turn out. While overall turnout was encouraging, there is opportunity to grow turnout for the program from parents, faith leaders, and healthcare providers. The program held a successful Gender Spectrum training, “Creating Gender Inclusive Schools” in 2022. VYFS staff reached out to the principal of Chautauqua Elementary School, Vashon’s only public elementary school, about promoting the training to the school’s educators and staff. The principal invited VYFS to offer the training as part of Chautauqua’s mandatory professional development training calendar.  

Over 55 school employees attended the “Creating Gender Inclusive Schools” training or watched a video recording of the training. Session feedback indicated that participants learned new information from the training that they would directly apply in their work with children, including how to listen more effectively, ways to adjust their curriculum, and to be thoughtful and intentional with gender inclusive language.  

LGBTQ+ Activist Summer Camp for Middle School Students 

The project supported underfunded programming for LGBTQ+ youth and youth allies, including an LGBTQ+ youth activist summer camp provided by DOVE Project, and a weekly “Care Club” group at Vashon Kids aimed at teaching school aged youth about bodily autonomy, respect for gender differences, caring communication, and relationship skills.  

“The enhanced collaboration enabled by this project has opened the doors for further collaboration with two critical community partners,” Vashon Youth and Family Services staff shared in a report about their work with the County. “Collaboration between educators and providers (at both the individual and organizational levels) is vital on Vashon as resources are limited by the fact that we are a rural, unincorporated community in King County. As an island, we are literally cut off from the mainland; as an unincorporated community service area, we are frequently cut off from services and funding opportunities available to incorporated communities.”