Article by Maya
Edited by Madeleine and Audrey
As anti-LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and more) laws begin to be lifted and anti-discrimination laws replace them, one thing has stayed consistent: the mental health of LGBTQ+ people is overwhelmingly negative. According to Rethink Mental Illness, a British organization centered around destigmatizing mental health, LGBTQ+ people are more at risk of suicidal and self-harm behavior than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. Gay and bisexual men have the highest prevalence of this, being 4 times more likely to attempt suicide.
Transgender people also are at high risk, with 84% having thought about suicide. No matter the sexual orientation, gender identity, or age, LGBTQ+ mental health is in danger.
Issues with mental health for LGBTQ+ people start as soon as childhood. In fact, LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk for mental disorders than their straight peers. According to the Trevor Project, a crisis intervention and suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ+ youth, 40% of LGBTQ+ youth (ages 13-24) have considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months. More than half of those youth were transgender or non-binary individuals. On top of this, 68% have symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and 55% have symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder. With LGBTQ+ youth showing these symptoms at such high rates, it would make sense for there to be a plethora of mental health resources available to them. That, however, is not the case. In fact, in the past 12 months, 84% of LGBTQ+ youth reported an interest in aid from a mental health professional; however, only 38% of those youth actually got the services that they needed.
This is for a variety of reasons, some of the most common being inability to afford care, concerns about getting parental permission, and concerns about finding an LGBTQ+ competent provider. With these barriers put into place from the very beginning, it makes finding a mental health professional exceedingly difficult (Trevor Project).
Mental health care is particularly difficult for transgender individuals. According to Rethink Mental Health, 88% of transgender people have experienced depression and 84% have thought about suicide. In fact, transgender youth have the highest rates of suicide among youth. These startling percentages are mainly because of a mental disorder called ‘gender dysphoria’ (Mayo Clinic). Gender dysphoria is “the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics” (Mayo Clinic). Because of this distress, transgender people often feel hopeless or confused, often causing symptoms of depression or thoughts of suicide.
Additionally, finding an LGBTQ+ competent healthcare provider is extremely difficult. Because of social stigma, discrimination, and a denial of rights, among other things, this process is more complicated for those within the LGBTQ+ community. This has proven to not only be harmful to the mental health practice but to the LGBTQ+ person as well, as discrimination against LGBTQ+ people causes for higher rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, and suicide. It’s simple: when a group of people are denied the right to healthcare and LGBTQ+-competent providers, they are unable to get help for mental illness.
A lot of the discrimination that LGBTQ+ people face comes from this intolerance, which then turns into a lack of support. Although it is commonly believed that this issue is declining, it is not. According to GLAAD (an LGBTQ+ organization focused of equal rights for LGBTQ+ people)’s 2017 survey (featured below), the LGBTQ+ community continues to lack acceptance in many social settings. This is extremely troubling because as discrimination increases, mental health decreases.
Source: GLAAD Accelerating Acceptance Survey, 2018
This issue is intersectional as well. Although LGBTQ+ people already experience shocking mental health rates, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) LGBTQ+ members experience worse mental health statistics. They also are denied healthcare at higher rates, and have a harder time finding a competent mental health provider, as they must look for one that is competent and understands all issues that may be present.
When an LGBTQ+ person has access to mental healthcare, it not only positively impacts them, but the entire community. Once utilized, mental health services result in an increased mental wellbeing, reduced healthcare costs, and increased longevity for LGBTQ+ people.
If you are LGBT+ and need mental health aid:
Trevor Project: Call 1-866-488-7386 (crisis line) or Text START to 678-678 (counselor chat)
For LGBT+ youth struggling with mental health, in a crisis, and/or in need of someone to talk too.
Trans Lifeline: Call 877-565-8860
For transgender youth and adults struggling with mental health or in a crisis.