Goldbach Develops School-Based Intervention Program to Promote LGBTQ Adolescent Mental Health | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
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Goldbach Develops School-Based Program to Promote LGBTQ Adolescent Mental Health

Faculty; Research; Social Work

"So, what do you think?" Jeremy Goldbach recalled asking the group of teenagers at a Southern California LGBTQ drop-in center. A seemingly innocuous question, but at the same time monumental. He was asking for feedback on a program his team had been developing for nearly a decade - an intervention for promoting LGBTQ adolescent mental health.

Goldbach, who joined the Brown School community this fall, said he briefly panicked as silence set in. But soon, the feedback was flowing.

In 2010, Goldbach started creating Proud & Empowered (P&E) program to help sexual and gender minority adolescents (SGMA) cope with discrimination and stigma. Studies consistently show this group experiences higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as discrimination, violence, and victimization – all of which places them at higher risk of mental health concerns. Yet, at the time, no programs existed to support teachers, administrators and social workers to support these youth in an evidence-based way.

Ten years after undertaking the process, outlined in The Development of Proud & Empowered: An Intervention for Promoting LGBTQ Adolescent Mental Health, the intervention is ready for large-scale testing. With funding from the National Institutes of Health, P&E has been tested in four Los Angeles schools. With promising preliminary results from the pilot, the randomized control trial will soon be expanded to 24 schools. But getting to this point took time and effort and required a lot of reading, reflecting and recalibrating.

"We knew that there was a problem, but we knew almost nothing about why it was a problem, what we could even do, where the intervention points should be, where in the system we should intervene, and what coping looks like," Goldbach explained. "These last ten years taught me the importance of intentional science. It can be unbelievably frustrating, but you don't get to jump ahead just because you see a need and you want to help, and you're driven to try and intervene and fix this problem. Passion is one part of the recipe. Science is the other."

The initial plan was to implement the intervention at LGBTQ drop-in centers, but it soon became apparent that wasn't the right place to start. Study participants expressed a desire for the program to be in a school setting, where many experience the most stress and victimization.

"It is nice that you are so focused on helping us – but what about the system that created this problem in the first place?" one youth said. "You need to start there."

"This intervention is quite literally the culmination of thousands of kids' input," Goldbach said. "Looking back at all the youth who gave us their time, let us interview them, took our surveys and helped us learn, it is humbling. We hope [the input] makes P&E relevant to the lives of young people today," he said.

The program, along with information about its early efficacy data, is available at no cost upon request Proud & Empowered consists of 10 sessions that run 30 to 45 minutes each. There are training modules to assist adolescents and supportive adults in administering the program. and are available at no cost by request.

Intervention topics focus on the following areas:

  • Stress and coping
  • Disclosure decision-making
  • Family School-related stress and resilience
  • Peers and friendship
  • Safety in relationships
  • Spirituality, faith and religion
  • Race, ethnicity and social justice
  • LGBT community and history
  • Intersections of health, substance use, HIV, and the medical system

Growing up gay in the 1980's and 1990's was "a mostly bad" experience, shared Goldbach. At the time, there wasn't much interest in developing programs to help parents and teachers because the field generally assumed these were unsupportive actors. But he's optimistic about the future of LGBTQ+ youth.

"This next generation [of LGBTQ scholars] is so important because they don't have the baggage that I brought. We're in a different place," he said. "It's amazing for me to watch parents and teachers reaching out for resources to help kids and to see new and emerging scholars answer that call with open arms."

Goldbach joined the Brown School in fall 2021 after nearly a decade with the University of Southern California. He's excited to be at the Brown School, particularly in the Midwest, as he continues his research on the disparities that LGBTQ+ youth experience.

"I built my career in Los Angeles, and sometimes we undervalue the work that can be done in smaller cities and particularly more rural areas of the country. I think that's a huge disservice," Goldbach said. "Being in Missouri challenges me in a new way and is forcing me to think about how to do my work and present my work in a way that is going to be more accessible for people."