Supporting the Mental Health Crisis Workforce to Address the Needs of the LGBTQ+

The UConn School of Social Work’s Innovations Institute has launched a new training program for crisis counselors and first responders

A Pride flag in the foreground, with a mental health professional seated in the distance.


As the nation works to build the systems and services necessary to respond to the U.S. mental health crisis, the workforce within those systems require support and specialized training to effectively address the needs of vulnerable populations and to meet the growing demands for care.

The UConn School of Social Work’s Innovations Institute leads a Center of Excellence for LGBTQ+ Behavioral Health Equity (COE), funded by U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to provide behavioral health practitioners with vital information to support LGBTQ+ people.

Innovations—experts in instructional design and in behavioral health—has launched a new COE training designed to provide crisis counselors and first responders with in-depth knowledge to address the specific needs of and improve outcomes for LGBTQ+ populations.

In October of 2020, Congress passed the National Suicide Hotline Act, designating 988 as the new nationwide number for suicide prevention and mental health crisis. And in Spring of 2022, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced $35 million in funding opportunities to strengthen and expand community mental health services and suicide prevention efforts.

These groundbreaking efforts paved the way for expanded services and support 24/7—important for LGBTQ+ people—a community that has been markedly impacted by negative mental health outcomes due to stigma, prejudice, and inequitable access to care.

“The current data on LGBTQ+ communities highlight the need for tailored and culturally responsive mental health services, particularly at times of mental health crises. Through trainings like this one we are implementing change strategies to directly address behavioral health disparities in the LGBTQ+ community and improve outcomes,” says COE Principal Investigator Marlene Matarese.

The Trevor Project’s 2023 National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ+ Young People found that 41% of LGBTQ+ young people between the ages of 13 and 24 seriously considered attempting suicide in the 12 months preceding the survey. Their findings also highlighted that 56% of respondents were not able to access mental health care when they needed it in the preceding months.

Research also found that LGBTQ+  adults are at higher risk to suicide when compared to their straight and cisgender peers, and that older LGBTQ+ adults report high levels of isolation and loneliness, contributing to negative health and life outcomes. Disparate mental health outcomes are compounded for LGBTQ+ people of color who face multiple forms of discrimination.

Designed to improve mental health outcomes for LGBTQ+ people, the new self-paced online training was developed by the COE in partnership with Vibrant Health—administrators of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Titled Introduction to LGBTQ+ Populations with Special Considerations for the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline the training addresses disparities; introduces accurate and respectful terminology, mental health considerations, the coming out process; and outlines the ways that 988 crisis counselors can support LGBTQ+ people over call, chat, and text.

Crisis counselors responding to those reaching out through 988 can build their knowledge and skills to address the needs of LGBTQ+ populations, thereby ensuring everyone who reaches out through crisis lifelines feel supported. The course takes approximately 60 minutes to complete and provides 1.0 CECs or a certificate of attendance.