Winter festivities can expose members of the LGBTQIA+ community to people and situations they’d rather avoid. In this Psychiatric Times article, Mindpath Health’s Anoopinder Singh, MBBS, MD, FAPA, explores ways for everyone to find peace, integrity, and new traditions amid the holiday stress.
The holidays bring cheer and celebration — as well as stress and tension. Although winter festivities are meant to bring friends, family, and colleagues together, they can also be filled with awkward encounters and uncomfortable situations.
For members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex communities (LGBTQIA+), these experiences include an added layer of stress. Although the holidays are meant to be a time to relax and celebrate, many who identify as LGBTQIA+ must defend themselves against questions, snide comments, and outright hostility. More than half of LGBTQIA+ members hide their personal relationships to avoid controversy and confrontation. Others avoid gatherings with family and friends. Faced with discrimination, rejected by family, and not so silently judged, many LGBTQIA+ members end up spending the holidays in loneliness and isolation.
Unique holiday challenges
About 5.6% of adults in the United States identify as LGBTQIA+, up from 4.5% in 2017. This is a number that has been rising steadily since 2012, when only 3.5% identified as such. It is also a number that includes more diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity. More than half of LGBTQI adults, 54.6%, identify as bisexual. About 24.5% identify as gay, 11.7% as lesbian, and 11.3% as transgender.
Many members of the LBGTQIA+ community are already suffering from limited social and family connections, and all of this can increase feelings of sadness and grief during the holidays. Those who attend family reunions often find it difficult to avoid conflicts and are subject to passive or overt homophobic comments and outright rejection. The fine line between healthy bonding and too much togetherness gets crossed repeatedly.
The holidays tend to be a time to make important announcements, but many in the LGBTQIA+ community avoid coming out, introducing a new partner, or announcing they are transitioning due to a fear of rejection or a desire to not kill the cheer.
Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are twice as likely to experience a mental health condition compared to heterosexual adults. Transgender people are four times as likely. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community also experience higher rates of homelessness, substance abuse, and suicide.
Mental health challenges
It was not too long ago that homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. That changed in 1973, when it was declassified and removed from the second edition of the DSM.
Against this backdrop, the LGBTQIA+ community has maintained a sometimes-uneasy relationship with psychiatry and the mental health field. Although all patients should receive unbiased care, there are clinicians who continue to discriminate against members of the LGBTQIA+ community, whether consciously or subconsciously. As a result, many patients may avoid seeking the care they need.
Practicing holiday self-care
There are many ways members of the LGBTQIA+ community can protect the spirit of the holidays this season. This may also be the perfect time to create new holiday traditions. Here are just a few suggestions:
- Do not feel pressured to celebrate the holidays according to what others are doing. You deserve to prioritize yourself. Travel, buy yourself gifts, and do the things you truly enjoy.
- Seek help and guidance from friends or people you trust. It is important to talk about difficult or distressing feelings or emotions without fear of judgment.
- Likewise, offer support to other LGBTQIA+ community members. Listen, reassure them, and show that you care. Providing support to others can boost your self-esteem and promote mental health.
- Limit time with family or antagonizing groups of people. Instead, make more time for the friends and communities that provide support. Create a sense of belongingness and community by seeking out LGBTQIA-inclusive gatherings and celebrations.
- Do not abandon healthy routines. Make sure you get plenty of exercise and sleep and limit the use of alcohol or other illicit drugs.
- Limit social media engagement, if necessary.
- Get professional help. If you are struggling with mental health, reach out to a mental health provider, preferably someone with expertise in LGBTQIA+ issues or who provides an LGBTQIA-affirming approach to treatment.