Having at least one safe space of like-minded individuals can make a significant difference in your mental health. In this Livestrong article, Kiana Shelton, LCSW, discusses why mental illnesses are more common in LGBTQIA+ people and how to find support.
In fact, those in the community are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide than their heterosexual and cisgender peers: 40% of transgender adults have attempted suicide in their lifetime, compared to less than 5% of the general U.S. population, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Why Mental Illness Is More Common in the LGBTQIA+ Community
“Research has shown that individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ are more than twice as likely as heterosexual men and women to have a mental health disorder in their lifetime,” says Kiana Shelton, LCSW with Mindpath Health.
Being in a Gender or Sexual Minority Is a Stressor
In 2003, psychologist and scholar of gender studies Ilan Meyer developed something called the minority stress model, a theory originally about how members of the LGBTQIA+ community have higher prevalence of mental illness than their heterosexual and cisgender peers.
In June 2015 survey results in BMC Public Health, researchers found gender-affirming care, social and familial support and discrimination reduction were linked with lower levels of suicidal ideation among trans Canadians. Those who had greater support in one or more areas of their lives were less likely to experience suicidal ideation than those who had little to no support.
LGBTQIA+ Folks Are More Likely to Seek Help
Higher rates of mental health diagnoses could also be due to higher likelihood of folks seeking help.
In fact, according to a May 2017 study in the Journal of Homosexuality, LGBTQIA+ people use mental health services 2.5 times more than their heterosexual peers. And it follows that folks who seek help are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health condition.
Past Diagnoses Lead to Modern-Day Stigma
Stigma and discrimination have affected those in the LGBTQIA+ community for hundreds of years. And despite the huge amount of progress we’ve made in the last few decades, widespread education still isn’t available. That means many people today still hold outdated misconceptions, leading to widespread discrimination and increased stressors on minorities.
After homosexuality was removed from the DSM, it still took another 40 years for the manual to stop classifying being transgender as a mental illness, according to the American Psychiatric Association. But many in society still hold the belief that any minority LGBTQIA+ identity is a mental condition instead of simply a different way of being.
Coming Out Isn’t a One-Time Thing
Even within the community, there’s this idea that coming out is a one-and-done process, that once you publicly come out, you don’t have to do it anymore.
Coming out can be incredibly difficult, especially if those doing it have reason to believe they won’t be accepted when they do. There are many young LGBTQIA+ folks who don’t do anything concerning their identity until after they’ve moved out, for fear of losing their homes, for example.
A Lack of Education Creates More Stigma
Because education still hasn’t reached many areas of the country, there are still plenty of myths about the LGBTQIA+ community that may increase the risk of mental health issues. One of the most harmful myths is that having an LGBTQIA+ identity is a choice and can be reversed via conversion therapy.
How to Get Help
Because belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community is seen by some as trendy, people might think getting help and support is easier than it actually is.
Seek Out Affirming Support
The best thing you can do for your mental health is to get support — from a friend, family member, colleague, teacher or anyone else you feel you can trust. Having someone who accepts you for who you are without judgment can help with any feelings of shame you might have around your identity.
Along with having someone in your life you feel you can trust, you’ll want to find a therapist who has experience working with LGBTQIA+ people. Look for a therapist trained to help you navigate the discrimination and struggles that many in the community face.
Look for Reduced-Cost Services
Traditional therapy can get expensive fast and given that many people have a hard time paying their rent, therapy just isn’t possible for everyone. However, that doesn’t mean LGBTQIA+ folks don’t have options.
Therapy also isn’t the only option for support.
“Having at least one safe space of like-minded individuals can make a significant difference in your mental health,” Shelton says. “Find a place to share lived experiences and [have] those experiences be normalized. It can make the world feel less lonely.”
Read the full Livestrong article with sources.