Anyone who identifies as non-heterosexual or non-cisgender is embraced and welcomed within the LGBTQ. This includes those who are questioning their gender or sexual identity. It’s mostly known for being a supportive and nurturing community, embracing differences amongst each other, but is often plagued with mental health disparities that go unnoticed. Unfortunately, these disparities are often met with stigma and discrimination, which can delay treatment or impact the level of service or care.
What Stigma is Included with the LGBTQ?
All mental health organizations have confirmed that homosexuality or a spectrum within the LGBTQ (including transgender) is not a mental disorder. Despite these assurances, many members of the community are ostracized about their sexuality daily. Social media is rampant, with keyboard warriors sharing offensive and disgusting comments with outdated or irresponsible beliefs. These suggest that those within the LGBTQ have impaired judgment, reliability, stability, or mental capacity, which influence the mental health of all involved.
Different Types of Discrimination and Stigmas
Societal influence plays a significant factor in discrimination, primarily due to the openness and receptiveness of the community. The bias is minimal in larger metro areas (likely where there is a substantial LGBTQ collective). For others, the influence of community expectation can significantly influence a person’s success or failure. Transgender individuals are more likely to face poverty and suffer from unemployment than non-transgender people. These statistics are particularly affected by the lack of federal protections of LGBTQ individuals within the workplace.
Failure to protect a vulnerable portion of society can increase mental health disparities, along with higher levels of violence, self-harming behaviors, and a lack of resources. Multiple groups have reported discrimination and stigma connected to their health services. This can include lack of information or education, projecting misbeliefs onto patients, or failing to create an inclusive environment. For example, someone looking for mental health resources in California may refuse treatment out of fear or anxiety. This can stem from previous experiences or can be a direct reference from others within the community.
Mental Health Considerations for LGBTQ
Statistics have shown that members of the LGBTQ are more than twice as likely (when compared to heterosexual individuals) to have a mental health disorder in their lifetime. These disorders can include depression, anxiety, or substance misuse. They are also double the risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared to heterosexual people.
For marginalized races, identifying as transgender can put them at a significant increase in suicide attempts or self-harm. According to the Massachusetts Department of Health, nearly 31% of all transgender people have considered attempting suicide at one point. Additionally, hate crimes and physical violence directly connected to sexual orientation have significantly increased in the last five years, making LGBTQ people more susceptible to physical violence overall.
Those facing multiple areas of marginalization (as defined by economic disadvantage, physical limitations, disabilities, race, or gender) can also increase the probability of mental health issues. Depression, anxiety, or other similar disorders can significantly increase when faced with multiple areas of discrimination. Likewise, a lack of community or family support can leave individuals feeling isolated, misunderstood, or alone. Not feeling accepted within educational or work systems can negatively influence mental health patterns, pushing people away from mental health services as they become increasingly depressed or disadvantaged.
How Can Health Providers Influence These Statistics?
One of the easiest ways to improve these statistics is through education and awareness. This educational reform is achieved by increasing the social and legalized context of the issues LGBTQ people face. Establishing a baseline for mental health disparities and identifying critical factors within communities can also influence wellbeing. Health providers need to become aware of the internalized discrimination that occurs with their patients. This can significantly impact the quality of care and adds a secondary influence to wellbeing.
Providing appropriate training to ensure understanding of gender and sexual normative are also crucial for positive benefit. Open and accepting environments will promote mental health services instead of delay treatment or response to a crisis.
There needs to be better recognition of multiple marginalization occurring within the LGBTQ. For example, disability, race, and poverty can greatly influence mental health, in addition to the marginalization faced within the LGBTQ community. By providing resources and access to care, providers can encourage better health and wellbeing to those most vulnerable within the community.
Pushing Positivity Through Mental Health and Wellbeing
There are several vital factors for those within the LGBTQ that can impact overall mental health and wellbeing. Having support through friends and family (particularly youth) can significantly influence the implications of mental health. Likewise, having low levels of internalized homophobia (or other stigmas attached to sexual orientation) can also improve prognosis. Directly addressing many social detriments to health or financial limitations can help vulnerable community members.
Finally, attaching positive correlations with sexual identity is paramount to all members of the LGBTQ (regardless of age or race). These positive associations include having a positive association with “coming out” or revealing their gender, sexual orientation, or other components to sexual health. Support, whether direct or indirect, can nurture the individual instead of ostracizing them.