The Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex+ (LGBTQI+) community houses a very broad range of identities, gender expressions, and sexual orientations. On top of that, members of the community are equally as diverse in race, religion, ethnicity, subeconomic class, and nationalities. The meeting point for all these people, being housed within the LGBTQI+ community, provides an enormous diversity in thought, perspective, experience and understanding. This level of complexity is extremely important and is a valuable and unique aspect of the LGBTQI+ community that often results in a strong sense of resilience, and of course, pride.
Belonging to the LGBTQI+ community can bring a sense of home, of community - strength provided by those around you who, while being incredibly individual and unique, can relate to the common struggles and problems that most of the community faces. However, there are often problems that arise as well, and knowing how to recognize the ways that your gender identity and sexual orientation relates to your mental health is more important than ever.
Often times, the community isn't included specifically in scientific studies revolving around mental health, but recent research has started revealing that members of the LGBTQI+ community are at a significantly higher risk for experiencing mental health conditions - particularly anxiety and depression. LGB (Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual) adults are more than 2x as likely as heterosexual adults to experience a mental health condition. Transgender individuals are 4x likely than their cisgender counterparts to experience mental health conditions.
LGB youth are also at a higher risk for mental health conditions, and thoughts/actions revolving around suicide. LBG youths are twice as likely to report feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and feeling lost than their hetero peers. Transgender youths, facing even worse disparities, are twice as likely as their LGB peers to feel this way.
For both adults and youths in the community, it is not really surprising that it's more common to be at higher risk for mental health issues. Particularly when it comes to depression and anxiety, or suicidal thoughts and actions! Facing violence, discrimination, police retaliation, prejudice, denial of civil and human rights, harassment and family rejection (which can lead to worsened mental health symptoms and behaviors), a lot of the community is put in a place where your mental health has to stay on high alert to stay safe. Society commonly singles out the community - whether it's overtly positive, which therefore feels negative, or in a disapproving, violent, vicious way - the feelings of aloneness within a community can be extremely damaging.
Important Risk Factors To Consider
Coming out- For anyone, coming out to your family and your friends is terrifying. With the common knowledge of how easy that can backfire, of the stories of your friends telling their parents and getting kicked out, or losing their friends, their church, their community - it's terrifying to not know how your truth will be received. In recent years, the positive support of coming out has been exponential - and amazing! In turn, this is allowing for younger people to be comfortable to come out and speak their truths. Doing this at a young age can change the social dynamic around you, and can impact social experiences and relationships. It's important to keep in mind how, should the situation be not supportive, this can have negative mental health impacts.
Rejection - For many in the community, coming out is difficult and traumatic. It can be extremely difficult to cope with rejection of something as personal as your actual self, and your identity. According to a survey from 2013, 40% of LGB adults have experienced rejection of a family member, or a close friend. A school climate survey taken in 2019 showed that 86% of community youths reported being harassed or assaulted while at school. Especially during your formative years, when you are still learning to love yourself in the first place, this harassment and assault can cause serious mental health impacts.
Trauma - Homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, bully, and feeling internalized identity-based shame are often extremely traumatic situations for people in the community. The LGBTQI+ community faces an unbelievable amount of discrimination, including: stereotyping, labeling, denial of opportunities, and verbal/mental/physical abuse. They are one of the most targeted communities in the United States be perpetuators of hate crimes. This heightened level of danger also heightens the risk of developing PTSD in comparison to those in the heterosexual community.
Substance Abuse - The misuse, or overuse, of substances is a significant concern for members of the community. Utilizing substances for self-medication, or coping mechanisms, especially in communities where the "club drug" culture is alive, can end up becoming a reality. LGB adults are twice as likely as hetero adults to experience substance use disorders, while Transgender individuals are almost four times as likely. This is reflected in youths as well, as illicit drug use has been seen higher in community identifying teens than their hetero counterparts.
Homelessness - The current estimation is that LBGTQI+ youths and young adults have a 120% higher chance of experiencing homelessness than their hetero peers. This is often the result of rejection from family, and from their homes, communities, and safe spaces. The risk is especially high in Black and Native American/Alaskan Native community youth. Many young LGBTQI+ youths have an even harder time finding shelters that will accept them, and experience a higher rate of abuse and harassment within the shelters that DO accept them.
Suicide - So many people in the LGBTQI+ community struggle with mental health, and struggle in silence. This can lead to our loved ones within the community to commit suicide. Not only is the LGBTQI+ community at a higher risk of committing suicide or thinking about suicide, but high school youths in the community are four times as likely to have attempted suicide as their peers. At the toughest rates, 40% of transgender adults have attempted suicide already in their lifetime, compared to less than 5% of the US general population.
Inadequate Mental Healthcare - More often than not when looking for mental health care, practitioners automatically lump everything within the LGBTQI+ community into one pile. All aspects are the same, struggle is the same, feeling is the same. This is absolutely not the case. The LGBTQI+ exists as an enormous umbrella, which houses communities within communities, containing all of us who fall into the queer world. Having mental health practitioners look at someone in the community with a stereotype or previous assumption can cause issues when it comes to diagnosis, ability to access care in the first place, and success in finding support at all. Additionally, because of the social stigmas that still revolve around being outside of the heteronormative scale, often times people in the community are afraid to disclose their sexual identity/gender identity/etc. for fear of discrimination from their providers.
It is important when looking for a mental health care provider to do your research. Especially in the circumstances of our LGBTQI+ peers and friends - since there is still stigma and struggle amongst the acceptance of the community, you can't be afraid to ask questions. When you do your research into potential providers, check reviews. Do they have mention of LGBTQI+ specialties on their site? Do you have friends actively seeking treatment via therapy? Ask them for their providers information, and feel free to call the office line to get your questions out of the way. Sometimes, it's better to call them and let them know your situation before going in - which can also keep that negative aspect mentioned above, rejection, on the lower end of mental health hurt.
Please note - the resources included here are not endorsed by Send HEPi, nor is Send HEPi endorsed by them. Send HEPi is not responsible for the content of service provided by any of the resources below, however they have positive reviews within the community and often provide excellent support.
CenterLink LGBT Community Center Member Directory
The Association Of Gay And Lesbian Psychiatrists
Provides resources for LGBT individuals experiencing mental health struggle, as well as psychiatric professionals with LGBT clients/safety
The LGBT National Help Center
Offers confidential peer support connections for LGBT community members of all ages. Includes, phone, text and online chat services.
The Trevor Project
A support network for LGBTQ youths - provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention. 24 hour text line (text "START" to 678678)