Supporting the Mental Health of the LGBTQ+ Community

Throughout the month of June,  the LGBTQ+ community and its allies celebrate Pride Month. While many use the month to celebrate freedoms, build awareness, and encouraging diversity, it is important to remember that lesbian, gay, bisexual, trangender, queer, questioning, and other non-binary individuals are part of a minority population. Fighting for acceptance on national, local, and interpersonal levels takes a toll. The result is heightened levels of mental health distress, challenges, and illness facing the LGBTQ+ community. 

Despite growing in size, the LGBTQ+ community continues to face stigma and discrimination. There are stories in the news about heckling, harassment, and even violence. This ongoing discrimination creates minority stress, a chronic form of psychological stress experienced due to one’s status within a marginalized group. The condition arises from the stressful experience of facing a constant lack of acceptance or outright discrimination, and has very tangible effects on one’s long-term physical health and overall well-being. 

A Growing Crisis for LGBTQ+ Youth

 In a recent blog, we highlighted the Trevor Project’s 2021 survey of LGBTQ+ youth. The survey found that symptoms of social isolation, anxiety, and depression were rampant: 

  • 94% reported feeling negatively impacts on their mental health by recent politics 
  • 72% reported symptoms of anxiety in the past 2 weeks
  • 62% reported symptoms of depression in the past 2 weeks
  • Half of respondents who desired sessions with a mental health professional were unable to receive any

This data underscores the urgent need for additional support for the LGBTQ youth population.

What is fueling this spike in anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation? On one level, many of today’s current events are taking a toll on the mental health of youth, including continued pandemic disruptions, recent school shootings, discriminatory legislation, and the lack of available mental health professionals available to address the current demand. The result is a sub-population of marginalized youth without adequate counseling resources to help process the distressing news, all of which is fueling an acute mental health crisis among our LGBTQ+ youth.  According to the 2021 Trevor Project Survey, 42% of LGBTQ youth — and 52% of trans youth — said they seriously considered suicide. 

While there are undoubtedly stressors that every child in America faces today, there is an additional set that is unique to LGBTQ+ kids and youth. Simply put, it is stressful to grow up “different.” Without outlets to address it, this stress often manifests in a more serious set of mental health issues, including anxiety, self-rejection, and depression. Despite higher levels of acceptance than ever before, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia are still very much alive, and are often expressed through harassment, bullying, and assault. There is also the added stress of “coming out” to family, friends, and religious communities, with associated fears of rejection, scorn, and lack of acceptance. 

 Making matters worse, anti-LGBTQ legislation seen across several states is making it hard for younger individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ to live freely and feel safe and supported in their communities. A January report found that two-thirds of LGBTQ+ youth believe recent debates about proposed state laws to restrict the rights of transgender people have negatively affected their mental health. These bills, most of which target transgender youth, offer restricting participation in school sports and banning access to gender-affirming medical care. Sexual orientation or gender identity alone does not increase suicide risk for LGBTQ youth; the trouble stems from how they are stigmatized in society.  

 With all of these issues directed at this community, it’s clear why LGBTQ+ youth struggle with mental health. Luckily, there are many ways for educators, peers, family members, and the community as a whole to come together and support LGBTQ+ youth. 

How Educators can Support LGTBQ Youth 

If you are involved in education, here are some way you can support the LGBTQ youth at your school:

  • Create a safe space for kids to be themselves and feel welcome at school
  • Use the correct pronouns, because words matter when creating affirming spaces in classrooms
  • Utilize safe space posters in classrooms or wear lanyards 
  • Build an inclusive curriculum that positively represents LGBTQ individuals in society

 In their recent survey, The Trevor Project asked LGBTQ youth, “Where do you find joy?” The responses can guide educators in creating better spaces for all students. Answers include:

  • Learning about LGBTQ history
  • Knowing I’m not alone and that there are more people like me
  • Supportive teachers
  • Having a safe space to express gender, gender identity, and sexuality
  • Prevalence of LGBTQ clubs on campus
  • Living as their authentic self

Support from Parents

According to new research from The Trevor Project, supportive actions taken by the parents and caregivers of LGBTQ+ children can lower their risk of suicide by more than 40 percent.

Most LGBTQ+ youth report feeling affirmed when they feel accepted. Parents, guardians, or caregivers can show support by:

  • Being welcoming and kind to their partners or close friends
  • Educating themselves about LGBTQ+ historical figures and culture
  • Openly discussing LGBTQ+ issues and news stories with them
  • Having respectful conversations with them about their identity
  • Using pronouns that the individual prefers
  • Being accepting of their gender expression by helping them buy new clothes or getting a new hairstyle

These suggestions are simple and supportive actions that can have a dramatic effect on reducing suicide risk and improving mental health among LGBTQ+ youth. 

Mental Health and the LGBTQ+ Adult Community

Pride Month is an impactful way to come together and celebrate the strength of the LGBTQ+ community. While tremendous strides have been made in recent decades for LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance, the month-long occasion is also a reminder of the stigma and discrimination that drives the mental health challenges experienced well into adulthood. Similar to LGBTQ+ youth, adults are at an increased risk for mental health challenges due to social isolation, harassment, and violence. Acts of discrimination are directly associated with increased psychiatric disorders, substance use, and suicide. 

Types of discrimination experienced by the LGBTQ+ community:

  • Labeling
  • Stereotyping
  • Denial of opportunities or access
  • Verbal, mental, and physical abuse 

As a result, “LGBTQ adults are more than twice as likely as their heterosexual counterparts to experience a mental health condition,” according to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Within the transgender community, the rates worsen: they are nearly four times as likely to experience mental health conditions than their cisgender counterparts. While 4% of the overall U.S. population considered suicide in the last year, the number increases dramatically to 48% of all adults within the transgender community.

Ways to Support the Mental Health of the LGBTQ+ Community 

To help address the prevalence of mental health issues within the LGBTQ+ community, start by creating awareness to reduce discrimination and and enacting inclusive habits. The following are several practical ways to support the mental health of the LGBTQ+ community this Pride Month, and all year long:  

Advocate. With the prevalence of LGBTQ+ discrimination and resulting mental health challenges, finding appropriate mental health treatment and services is vital. Unfortunately, research shows that only 12.6% of mental health facilities and 17.6% of substance use facilities in the U.S. have LGBTQ-specific programs. Pride Month is the perfect opportunity to advocate on behalf of LGBTQ+ individuals for expanded mental healthcare services.

Create a community of acceptance. A recent study revealed that connectedness to the broader community helps reduce suicidal tendencies. Help individuals know that while they may feel alone in their struggle, there are others experiencing – and overcoming – the same things. They are never truly alone. There are ample resources available online to help various communities share their support. Here are a few great guides:

Use the correct language to show your acceptance. When prejudice is rampant, words carry a great weight. The terms associated with sexuality or gender identity are ever evolving and should be considered non-universal; they may mean different things to different people. 

  • Generally speaking, in the spirit of the community, the term LGBTQ+ – for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning or Queer – is intended to be inclusive. 
  • Others, including the AP Style Guide, use the term LGBTQIA, which includes specific mention to Intersex and Asexual individuals – or Allies, depending on whom you ask. 
  • In general, it is always a good idea to ask somebody to explain what they mean when they reference a term, especially when describing their own identity. Here is a helpful glossary of terms of acceptance and celebration – and here are terms to avoid. 

Offer specialized forms of care. 33% of transgender individuals have reported experiencing a negative interaction with a healthcare provider. Inclusion and acceptance are extremely important for providing unbiased and equitable healthcare for all. Providers must consider how their unique experiences and identities may impact their health. The National LGBT Health Education Center describes strategies for providers to develop an inclusive practice. 

Care providers can also reference another recent blog, full of helpful tips on ways to better support the LGBTQ+ community and provide more thoughtful care for all. 

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