Coming to terms with sexuality can be difficult for some people. The LGBTQ community represents a diverse range of gender and sexuality expressions and identities. While belonging to this community can be a source of strength and comfort, it also brings a unique set of challenges, particularly with mental health. The issues of mental health LGBTQ individuals face is closely tied to the stigma that still lingers in some areas of society.
Being LGBTQ is not a sign of having a mental illness. However, experiencing prejudice or rejection because of your sexuality may lead to poorer mental health. Learn about the impact societal stigma and discrimination can have on the LGBTQ community and how others can provide support.
Issues of Mental Health LGBTQ Individuals Face
Research shows that there’s a higher prevalence of mental health disorders in individuals who identify as LGBTQ. Many individuals of this community are impacted by minority stress, meaning the prejudice and discrimination they face because of their sexual orientation leads to a hostile social environment that can cause mental health problems. Discrimination can come in many forms, including:
- Rejection from peers or family members
- Verbal, mental or physical abuse
- Denial of opportunities
- Being forced to conceal sexuality
The study of sexuality and mental health has been complicated by the debate on homosexuality being considered a mental disorder during the 1960s and early 1970s. Homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973, ending the official debate but not ending the stigma. Being LGBTQ is not a mental disorder, but facing discrimination because of sexuality or having a traumatic experience with coming out can have detrimental effects on a person’s mental health.
Social Stress Factors
Stress discourse evaluates how external events that negatively affect individuals can impact mental health. Social stress further explores how a person’s social environment can cause stress that may lead to physical and mental health issues. Many socioeconomic and cultural risk factors can negatively impact members of the LGBTQ population.
Studies show that about 40% of LGBTQ adults have experienced rejection from a close friend or family member, while 86% of youth reported facing harassment from their peers at school because of their sexuality or identity. Being rejected or ridiculed by others can be harmful and significantly impact a person’s mental health, especially if they feel they don’t have a safe space to go to.
The LGBTQ community is one of the most targeted populations for hate crimes in the United States. This type of discrimination puts individuals at an increased risk of post-traumatic stress disorder compared to those who identify as heterosexual. Being at heightened risk for verbal, mental and physical abuse can also lead to poorer mental health conditions.
LGBTQ youth and young adults are also at a higher risk of homelessness due to rejection from family members or housing discrimination because of sexual orientation. This risk can be especially high in Native American/Alaska Native and Black LGBTQ youth. Individuals may struggle with finding homeless shelters that’ll take them in. If they are able to find a shelter, they also may be at risk of experiencing harassment or abuse.
Because of these severe stress factors, LGBTQ individuals may turn to substance use as a coping mechanism. Adults of this community are nearly twice as likely to turn to drugs or alcohol than heterosexual adults. The risk of suicide is also higher in the LGBTQ population from having to stay silent about their suffering or not having the support they need.
Mental Health Treatment for the LGBTQ Population
Because of how sexual orientation has been viewed in the past, many LGBTQ individuals have experienced hardships finding mental health treatment. One survey revealed that nearly half of all respondents had experienced discrimination from providers, such as being denied care or told their sexuality is the cause of an illness. This kind of treatment from health care or insurance providers can cause people to hide their sexual orientation or avoid seeking care completely.
Sexual repression and mental health issues are closely tied. A lack of cultural sensitivity, increased stigma and a reluctance to address sexual orientation can negatively affect the level of mental health care individuals receive. If they feel they can’t be honest about their struggles or have to hide a part of who they are, this can affect their self-image and result in internalized homophobia. A person may start to believe their sexuality is the cause of their negative mental health, leading to even more problems.
Support for the LGBTQ Community
Mental health professionals who are open-minded and willing to help LGBTQ individuals can make a world of difference. Providers may share on their websites they specialize in LGBTQ care and have worked with patients from the community. Directory websites, such as insurance company sites, provide filters to allow people to search for mental health professionals that’ll accept their insurance and provide appropriate care.
Other resources that can help individuals find competent providers include:
- LBGTQ community centers
- Local LBGTQ health centers
- Equality groups
- Affirming places of worship
- Social organizations
- Local support groups
Being an Ally to the Community
If you know someone from the LGBTQ community who’s struggling with their mental health, being a good ally can go a long way. Learning about issues of mental health LGBTQ individuals face and speaking out against homophobia or discrimination can potentially reduce the stigma surrounding the community.
Being supportive of anyone who comes out is also a good measure to take. Coming out can already be a stressful situation for fear of rejection or harassment. By acting as a good listener and showing your support, individuals will see you as a safe space and feel more comfortable being themselves. This can increase their self-esteem and possibly reduce negative mental health effects.
Seek Positive Mental Health Treatment
If you or a loved one is struggling with their mental health and need a supportive shoulder to lean on, Restore Mental Health is here to help.