Alumnae/i Feature

Steven Haden ’21MSW Supports the LGBTQ+ Community with Envision:YOU

Steven Haden (he/him) '21MSW creates online resources and in-person events to support the mental health of the LGBTQ+ community. He shared the inspiration for his work, and the necessity of addressing mental health concerns for this community.

What made you choose to pursue your Masters of Social Work at Simmons?

I was a management consultant in a very competitive industry when I experienced depression and substance misuse. I realized that working in such a demanding field wasn't ideal for my overall well-being. In one of my inpatient treatment programs, I met someone who later started a non-profit working to help incarcerated women. She asked me to support her work by thinking about how to engage with these women. I fell in love with the work. It was about making connections with people who had likely made poor decisions but deserved respect, nevertheless. In helping them reconstruct their self-esteem, they could start to see that they had value in the world. It made me excited about starting a new career.

I moved to Denver, Colorado to work at WellPower (formerly the Mental Health Center of Denver). At that point, studying social work made sense. It combines the micro and macro parts of my life - my previous studies and interest in politics, and my steadfast commitment to helping folks rebuild their lives, as I once did. Simmons has the oldest social work program in the U.S. and represents a progressive activist view where students engage in the world in a meaningful way.

Tell us about Envision:You. Why (and how) did you start this organization?

I identify as a gay man, so in addition to having my own personal lived experience with mental health issues, I knew that substance use disorders are common in our community. I learned that the community was in crisis, with instances of anxiety, suicidality, and overdose two to four times more frequent than their cisgender straight counterparts. I saw this as an opportunity to create an organization that could help support people, and help people in the LGBTQ+ community move from surviving to thriving.

In the early days of the organization, I met with more than 300 members of the community through a series of roundtables to identify priorities for the newly formed non-profit, including increasing community understanding of mental health issues, and educating the broader community about the prevalence of these concerns among LGBTQ+ people. We determined the common issues facing members of the community - discrimination, harrassment, lack of familial attachment, among others - and discussed how to connect people with life affirming resources, respectful of their identity. Historically, queer folks have a lot of mistrust in our field due to the difficulty of finding affirming care.

To address this issue, how can mental health practitioners be equipped to treat LGBTQ+ patients? We hired a third party research firm to evaluate training programs for mental health professionals and found that existing training didn't touch on intersectionality, which is central to a therapist's ability to treat a client. The trainings were not developed through trauma-informed experience, which needed to be foundational to the training given the prevalence of trauma for queer folks. We created a multilevel training program called the Envision:You LGBTQ+ Behavioral Health Provider Training Program, with access to comprehensive nine hour training delivered over two days online, along with on-demand, self-paced learning modules. Since launching in 2021, it has reached more than 1,000 mental health professionals across the U.S.

Additionally, we host the annual Colorado Behavioral Health & Wellness Summit that brings together mental health professionals, community leaders, students and others to learn about best practices when working with the LGBTQ+ community.

Today, Envision:You employs eight full time staff, four part-time staff, in addition to our training team. We also benefit greatly from the five MSW graduate students who work with us every year.

What ways can members of the LGBTQ+ community connect online to advance their mental health and well-being?

During the early days of the COVID pandemic, our research revealed increasing isolation and lack of meaningful connection was increasing dramatically. After careful consideration and in consultation with industry leaders, we started work on You:Flourish, a first of its kind wellness smartphone app for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

You:Flourish is a public benefit corporation balancing purpose and profit to bring wellness and affirming resources to members of the LGBTQ+ community. The You:Flourish app is created, curated, and supported by the team at Envision:You.

The app is scheduled to launch nationally in March 2023. To learn more and follow our progress you can go to www.you-flourish.com.

What mental health advice do you have for LGBTQ+ people and their allies?

We have a campaign addressing how to have the talk about LGBTQ+ mental health, with the goal of reducing the stigma. We want to create an environment where people feel they are able to talk about their mental health and create a space for a person to accept help and support. Foundationally, how do we talk about mental health as individuals, with family and friends? The second piece is public awareness, making sure the larger community is aware of the prevalence of these issues in queer communities, and the disproportional impacts - financial, especially in the wake of COVID - that may contribute to that prevalence.

We know there is a youth suicide crisis in this country especially for LGBTQ+ youth. Our current political climate is hostile to queer youth, and a staggering number of policies against LGBTQ+ and trans youth have been implemented. One caring supportive adult in a person's life makes a huge difference. Absent that, the impact of trauma is increased, and the person is set up for greater risk of chronic illness and mental health issues as an adult. We need to work together as communities to address the demonization of queer folks, and provide tools that adult caregivers need to support LGBTQ+ youth.

Our history may make people uncomfortable, but we should be uncomfortable. We shouldn't cover up a history of horrific abuse to People of Color, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ folks and violence against the trans community. Ignoring history and actively banning books with queer themes only makes things worse.

What do you find most rewarding about this work?

I love being in community, attending Pride events and talking about our work. It's thrilling to feel we're making a difference. Each of our programs includes an advisory board, which gives me a lot of confidence that what we create is community-centered and that our new programs will be welcomed by the community. To learn more, visit envision-you.org.

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