Each June, Pride Month is recognized as a time to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, embrace the expression of identity, and honor the incredible contributions LGBTQ+ individuals have made throughout history.
While there is much to celebrate, unfortunately, LGBTQ+ individuals still face stigma and discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Pride Month can be an opportunity to investigate how the stigma affecting the mental health of the LGBTQ+ community can be addressed.
LGBTQ+ mental health statistics
Research shows that the LGBTQ+ population struggles disproportionately with mental illness and suicide.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual adults “are more than twice as likely as heterosexual adults to experience a mental health condition,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). “Transgender individuals are nearly four times as likely as cisgender individuals… to experience a mental health condition.”
For LGBTQ+ youth specifically, the Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, reports heartbreaking statistics:
- “45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year” This number rose slightly since the 2021 national survey, which reported 42%
- “14% of LGBTQ youth attempted suicide in the past year”
- “58% of LGBTQ youth reported experiencing symptoms of depression”
- “73% of LGBTQ youth reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety”
The Trevor Projects notes that “LGBTQ youth are not inherently prone to suicide risk because of their sexual orientation or gender identity but rather placed at higher risk because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society.”
Many LGBTQ+ individuals face stress-inducing situations that people outside of the community likely never have to face, such as coming out, being rejected by their friends and family based on their identity, or homelessness after leaving an unsafe or unaccepting household.
Prioritizing LGBTQ+ mental health this month
There is a clear path to prioritizing the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ+ friends and family – acceptance, respect, and support.
The Trevor Project reports that the mental health of LGBTQ+ individuals is heavily correlated with the way they are treated:
- “LGBTQ youth who felt high social support from their family reported attempting suicide at less than half the rate of those who felt low or moderate social support”
- “LGBTQ youth who report the presence of trusted adults in their school have higher levels of self-esteem and access to supportive peers is protective against anxiety and depression, including among those who lack support from their family”
- “Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported gender identity acceptance from adults and peers had significantly lower odds of attempting suicide in the past year”
How can you help change the mental health outcomes? One of the key ways is being an ally and a supportive friend to LGBTQ+ people throughout their journey of self-discovery and acceptance. Being an ally can be simple:
- Ask about their preferred pronouns and use those pronouns in writing, when speaking to them and when referring to them
- Provide an affirming, safe space for individuals to talk about their hopes, dreams, and fears
- Get involved when you see someone being bullied or discriminated against
- Stand against legislation that impedes their rights
- Normalize conversations about how a lack of societal acceptance and lack of affirming spaces affects LGBTQ+ mental health
- Share mental health resources and encourage them to seek professional help when necessary
- Educate yourself on the struggles they face and how you can help make a difference
And above all, just be kind to others. According to an article on the Mayo Clinic website, “Kindness has been shown to increase self-esteem, empathy and compassion, and improve mood. It can decrease blood pressure and cortisol, a stress hormone, which directly impacts stress levels. People who give of themselves in a balanced way also tend to be healthier and live longer.”
Barriers to mental health treatment in the LBGTQ+ community
Though the need for mental health treatment is strong, many LGBTQ+ people struggle to receive proper care. In fact, 60% of LGBTQ+ youth who wanted mental health care in the past year were not able to get it, according to The Trevor Project.
One of the barriers they may face is being unable to afford care. A study from UCLA found that 17% of cisgender and genderqueer sexual minority adults are twice as likely as the general population to have experienced homelessness in their lifetime. Between a high rate of homelessness and the common lack of a good support system, the economic strain of accessing quality mental health resources can be especially challenging.
Those who are able to afford care still may run into barriers, such as finding an affirming provider. Because homophobia and discrimination are unfortunately still prevalent in society today, LGBTQ+ people may run into these when seeking mental healthcare. Members of this community may feel ashamed or fearful about opening up about their mental health concerns if they perceive that their provider will not be accepting of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Even if a provider is inclusive and able to provide a stigma-free environment, they may not be culturally competent or experienced in treating LGBTQ+ mental health issues (such as internalized homophobia, the fear of coming out, and trauma and substance abuse).
Find resources for you or a loved one
There are many great resources out there to help the LGBTQ+ community in their mental wellness journey. Patients and clinicians alike can find resources to learn about mental health issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community and how to help on the GeneSight LGBTQ+ web page.
When seeking an LGBTQ-competent mental healthcare provider, NAMI recommends following these steps to keep on the right track:
- “Think about what you’re looking for”
- “Gather referrals”
- “Make the call”
- “Ask questions”
- “Build a relationship”
Remember, knowing what you do – and do not – want in your mental health provider, doing your research and asking questions can help you select a provider who best fits your needs and may lead to a better experience overall.
For more online resources on LGBTQ+ mental health, check out these blog posts: