Unlearning and Relearning: LGBTQIA+ and Mental Health
The life experiences that individuals from marginalized populations go through, have a higher impact on their mental health than those who do not come from these populations. Individuals that identify as LGBTQIA+ are no exception to these issues, they face discrimination and denial of civil rights, which is associated with high rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation and intent. Which can cause a strain on their mental health. Although as a society we have made progress in understanding and acceptance, we still have a long way to go. In order to get to where we need to be heterosexual/cisgender individuals need to unlearn previous misconceptions and learn the correct facts to work to develop an understanding of sexual orientation, gender identities, and the challenges that these individuals face. If we do not mental health issues within the community will continue to rise.
Research indicates that 4.5% of the US population identifies as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, of that 4.5% over 39% reported experiencing a mental illness within the past year. To put that in perspective that is roughly 5.8 million people, which is more than the population of Kentucky. When it comes to the rates of transgender and bisexual individuals they have a higher rate of mental health concerns within the community. With the younger generations struggling the most with mental health-related issues.
When we take a look at an individual's identity it covers a wide range of categories/subcategories. These categories include but are not limited to, age, sex, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status as well as religious affiliation if applicable. Many individuals that identify as LGBTQIA+ also belong to marginalized subcategories, which means they are dealing with oppression in more than one instance of their life; whether it be racism, sexism, ableism, classism, or religious oppression they are facing adversity in every direction. These complex experiences cannot be easily addressed by focusing on one area of their life.
Let's take some time to talk about some of these adversities. Negative stereotypes influence how individuals are perceived. This is something that individuals from all minority groups face. These negative stereotypes have a way of making the "majority" feel uncomfortable and ultimately creating conscious and unconscious biases. This then leads to macro and microaggressions such as hate speeches/ crime, assault, abuse, workplace discrimination, bigotry and so much more. When individuals express their sexuality/gender they often fear potential rejection.
So one might ask what does this have to do with mental health? Well, these adversities have a massive impact on an individual's mental health. Homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia, harassment, bullying, physical emotional, and psychological abuse, are all traumatic experiences for individuals to deal with. These experiences are correlated to a notably higher risk of PTSD among individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community as opposed to the heterosexual/cisgendered population
To cope, many individuals self-medicate. Substance use is a coping mechanism individuals develop to alleviate their problems. When reviewing research I found that individuals that identify as lesbian, bisexual, or gay are 2x more likely to develop a substance use disorder. While transgender individuals are 4x more likely to develop a substance use disorder. These rates are even higher when examining high schoolers compared to their peers.
What happens to individuals that are rejected? Well, oftentimes they experience symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. Some even experience homelessness which can bring its own trauma and development of mental health issues. The risk of homelessness is higher amongst African American youth that identifies as LGBTQIA+. Many individuals struggle in silence 48% of trans adults reported that they experienced suicide within the last year compared to the overall US total of 4%. Although Lesbian Bisexual Gay and Trans individuals are 2.5 more likely to use mental health services than heterosexual individuals. Queer teens are 6x more likely to experience depression than their non-identifying peers. LGBTQIA+ Youth are more than 2x more likely to experience suicidal ideation and 4x more likely to attempt to take their own life.
“So why don’t they just go to a shelter?" This is what I've heard a few people asking when this topic is brought up in conversations. The reality is that it isn't black and white when it comes to placement and seeking shelter. Society just recently began allowing gender-neutral restrooms. It's sad to say, many shelters discriminate against these individuals. For example, If a trans woman is looking for shelter and headed to a women-only shelter some people are going to have an issue with that, and vice versa if that same trans woman was to go to a male shelter they may experience harassment, and assault.
We need to make society more inclusive for the LGBTQIA+ community. How can I do that?
By becoming an ally. Being an ally is not a performative act. It's committing to advocate for the rights of others. Meaning don't just show up for pride then go ghost the rest of the year. There are a few ways one can go about allyship: donating to LGBTQIA+ organizations, educating others, making space for these individuals to exist.
When speaking with or about individuals make sure you are using proper pronouns. Sometimes individuals just need a listening ear, so being an attentive listener who is open-minded are two great characteristics of an ally. Have those uncomfortable conversations, learning about the experiences and history. Being inclusive can look a variety of ways such as simply inviting your queer friends to hang out with your friends or family, going to places that are safe places for them to attend, not trying to push your ideologies on them in hopes of changing them. You might be thinking well none of my friends are gay. Well, that may not be the truth. Someone close to you could be needing support in "coming out." Understanding that words hurt is an important part of allyship. Jokes and comments leave a lasting impression on people so be kind with your words. Sometimes you have to check your own biases. Lastly use your privilege to speak up, and defend your friends against discrimination.
Be visible let people know that you are a safe place.
Mental Health America. (n.d.). LGBTQ+ Communities and Mental Health. LGBTQ+ Communities And Mental Health. https://www.mhanational.org/issues/lgbtq-communities-and-mental-health.
NAMI. (n.d.). LGBTQI. Identity and Cultural Dimensions. https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Identity-and-Cultural-Dimensions/LGBTQI.