Studies have shown that people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) suffer from higher levels of anxiety and depression than the general public. In fact, approximately 30 – 60 % of the LGBTQ population have anxiety and depression and, as a whole, the LGBTQ community faces disproportionately high rates of suicide, self-harm, substance abuse and addiction. While there are many things that can influence a person’s mental and emotional wellbeing, prejudice and discrimination add additional trauma to LGBTQ mental health concerns.
Factors that Affect LGBTQ Mental Health
In and of itself, simply being LGBTQ does not affect a person’s mental health condition. Identifying against a cultural norm, however, exposes an LGBTQ person to prejudice and discrimination that their heterosexual counterparts don’t generally face. Some factors that affect LGBTQ mental health are:
- Homophobic societal attitudes
- Hate crimes against LGBTQ people
- Minority stress, which is a constant need to be “on guard” and to watch out for potential threats
- Negative self-image and self-loathing due to societal attitudes
- Lack of awareness of where to find positive role models
- Media coverage that is beginning to embrace the LGBTQ culture on one hand, but shows detrimental news stories about the treatment of the community on the other
- Worry about showing their true selves at work for fear of losing clients or promotions
- Fear of being denied housing
- Discrimination against transgender people within the LGBTQ community
Despite the fact that society is slowly becoming more accepting of the LGBT community, an uphill battle still remains. LGBTQ people have heard from birth that being something other than heterosexual or identifying with the gender you were born into is wrong. For example, although gay marriage was recently legalized, federal law still allows for legal discrimination in the workplace because it doesn’t protect people based on sexual orientation or gender identity. People can still legally be evicted from housing, fired from their job, or refused public or private services because of their LGBTQ status. Additionally, it is all too common for family members to reject someone who comes out to them.
Up to 65% of LGBT people suffer from some level of homophobia themselves (the belief that being LGBTQ is wrong). Hearing throughout their lives that they are somehow flawed causes many people to internalize those negative thoughts. Those who don’t have family or peer support have a harder time, as do those individuals who tend toward more negative personalities or have gone through adverse experiences, such as rejection or bullying.
On the other hand, even LGBTQ people who have supportive family and friends can end up feeling that their sexual or gender identity is somehow wrong. Often, people who love them want to help, but have no idea how to do so, and end up suggesting “cures” or a laundry list of worries (“you’re going to get AIDS”). These things contribute to the person’s feeling of being unworthy or hopeless. When the individual internalizes this shame from a young age, it often leads to long-term mental and emotional consequences.
Compassionate Care is Needed
For LGBTQ people, talking about their problems can feel like they are reinforcing the damaging stereotype against the gay and transgender community. Many individuals have been kicked out of their homes or shunned by family members and friends after they’ve come out. As an example, it’s estimated that about 40% of the homeless population in Southern California consists of homeless LGBT youth.
Compassionate care is needed to help the LGBTQ community recover from its serious mental health issues. Obviously, mental health providers should approach and treat their LGBT patients in the same manner as they would any other patient. However, they also need to understand how oppression and other factors contribute to anxiety and depression in these patients.
We Can Help
Our mental health professionals provide caring, compassionate LGBTQ mental health services. For more information, contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida. Call us today at 561-496-1094.