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‍LGBTQ Students Finding Hope in Declining Mental Health via Esports in Schools

Updated: Oct 6, 2023


On May 5, 2022, PBS NewsHour reported a new study from the Centers for Disease Control in its first-ever national survey of high school students and their mental health.

According to this study, nearly half of the 34,000 LGBTQ youth had either attempted or considered suicide in 2021. This was up from 40-45% of youth three years earlier. Transgender students are at the highest risk, with one in five attempting suicide.

The LGBTQ population is in all of our schools. It doesn't matter if students are in rural, urban, or suburban schools; these students are struggling with their mental health more than ever before. Schools across the country have to find ways to respond to the current mental health crisis for all students and, frankly, probably aren't equipped with everything needed to make a significant difference. Public education did not create schools to handle the epic mental health issues that the pandemic has exacerbated.

Education leaders need creative and innovative ways to help support students and their declining mental health. Despite schools’ best intentions, traditional social-emotional learning (SEL) has not curbed the rise in anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideations. Administrators must be willing to support more authentic ways to deliver SEL to students – such as an embedded curriculum in academic courses instead of one-off events like a speaker in a gym. In a perfect world, schools would have all the luxuries of mental health advocates, licensed therapists, and counseling available to all students. Unfortunately, it's a daunting thought for administrators and often feels like an enormous undertaking. So much so, that it's hard to know where to start.

School stakeholders must be creative and intentional about providing students with research-based resources to improve the devastating crisis. As U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy recommended, schools are just one entity that must work “to identify and respond to youth mental health needs more rapidly.”

Scholastic gaming is one of those tools.

No doubt you are wondering how on earth esports can impact the mental health of students. As Sam Ames from The Trevor Project stated in his interview with Stephanie Sy, being involved in a team and connecting to an adult who supports it can lower the risk for suicide.

When developing Gaming Concepts courses, the authors, Dr. Kristy Custer, a high school administrator, and Dr. Michael Russell, a high school social studies teacher, joined their efforts with Dr. Chris Jensen, a former ER physician turned science teacher who now consults for schools regarding health issues in education. He oversees a mental health study that measures the impact of Gaming Concepts courses on self-esteem, self-efficacy, and relationships with staff.

Authors of Gaming Concepts wrote lessons to emphasize five things:

  1. Discussions (and action items) to increase diversity and inclusion in esports and school life

  2. Emphasize that small gains are the more realistic path for all of us - not state championships

  3. Action items to increase socialization and relationships

  4. Dissecting the perils of social media, along with a toxic comparison to peers and self-loathing

  5. Reflections and feedback that highlight self-worth

Any self-esteem score below 15 is considered “abnormally low.” The lower the score, the more likely the respondent has poor self-esteem, which is a mental health risk factor.

Just as the CDC study showed, the first study included 250 students and showed one in five were abnormally low in self-esteem, which put them at greater risk for poor mental health. Even more concerning were the findings with LGBTQ and non-binary students. The study reported that 53.44% of LGBTQ students and 78.57% of non-binary students scored abnormally low self-esteem ranges using the Rosenburg Self-esteem Scale.

Currently, Dr. Jensen is leading a national study with over 700 students to assess the potential impact of Gaming Concepts in grades 6-12. This study began in January 2022 and will conclude at the end of May 2022 with three data sets. These courses serve as a venue for embedded SEL. The preliminary data suggest it improves self-esteem in LGBTQ and non-binary youth and moved these cohorts out of the abnormally low self-esteem range. All the more exciting was this happened in five weeks between data set one and two.

Leaders are tasked with providing a safe and supportive environment for all students. Esports has no gender, no locker rooms, and engages students from all demographics.

Could scholastic gaming and esports be the right tool to help your LGBTQ students?

Dr. Kristen Craft has served as a teacher, principal, and district administrator in public education for the past 27 years. As the 2021 Kansas Principal of the Year, Dr. Craft works as a leadership coach and consultant to support principals helping them avoid burnout, feeling inadequate and alone by providing customized support, accountability, and feedback. A champion of students, Dr. Craft joined the team at Generation Esports as an account executive to provide information and resources to educators who are looking for ways to engage students through esports.

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