Understanding Mental Health Challenges within the LGBTQ+ Community
According to NAMI, LGB youth are more than twice as likely to report experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness than their heterosexual peers. Many in the LGBTQI community face discrimination, prejudice, denial of civil and human rights, harassment, and family rejection, which can lead to new or worsened symptoms, particularly for those with intersecting racial or socioeconomic identities.
Why do members of the LGBTQ+ community experience higher rates of mental illness? Join us for a discussion about these challenges, stigma, and resources available in the community.
Understanding Mental Health Challenges within the LGBTQ+ Community is the topic of the monthly Facebook Live on April 20 from 12 p.m – 1 p.m. The event is FREE and open to the public.
Speakers are Susan Frawley, community and parent outreach services coordinator, GLYS of Western New York, Inc. and Ronald Piaseczny, JD, LMHC, president, Niagara Pride, Inc. Karl Shallowhorn, Mental Health Advocates of Western New York will be the moderator.
Ryan Phillips, LMHC, ADV practice clinician, Horizon Health Services, says that members of the LGBTQIA+ community may be shut out by family or forced to hide their true identities, and this can further exacerbate existing mental health issues.
“Common issues are depression, anxiety and PTSD,” Phillips said. “Members of LGBTQIA+ community are two to three times more likely to suffer from substance abuse and trans individuals are eight times more likely to experience trauma,” Phillips said.
Phillips says that code switching is used by LGBTQIA+ individuals to fit into an environment, becoming a chameleon and hiding their true identities. Code switching can be uncomfortable and involve changing speech, dress, or behavior to fit in at work, with family or socially.
“As a society, people are becoming more comfortable with clinicians but there is still a lot of work to be done,” he said. “Education is so important; we need to get information out and normalize the need for mental health services.”
Phillips, who directs the LGBTQIA+ workgroup, says there is a significant gap between services and need among the LGTBQIA+ community in Erie County and Niagara County. There is a need to expand services in an inclusive environment where members of the community can feel safe and comfortable and know that they are not alone.
“Stigma is not a sign of weakness,” Phillips said. “It takes a lot of strength to admit you need help. It shows resiliency to overcome great difficulties.”
Before we as community service providers can jump into conversations about why every 45 seconds in the U.S., an LGBTQ+ youth attempts suicide, or that depression and anxiety rates are higher amongst the LGBTQ+ community compared to their heterosexual cisgender counterparts, we must address the social, political, economic, religious stigmas placed on LGBTQ+ lives.
Here’s what Susan Frawley from GLYS says about stigma:
For LGBTQ people, the immediate stigma that comes from pathologizing their very existence is a reason many do not seek treatment for issues. National statistics tell us of the rate of suicide, self-harm, trauma, and substance abuse among LGBTQ people. It is also hard for LGBTQ people to find qualified mental health practitioners who can speak in a culturally sensitive manner, use proper pronouns, and understand complex gender identity issues.
Ronald Piaseczny from Niagara Pride, Inc. comments about mental health and stigma:
Starting with immediate family supports, many LGBTQ+ youth are fearful to come out to parents and loved ones for fear of being disowned, abused, or subjected to violence. Schools can be, at times, places where bullying and harassment from both other youth and school staff could be occurring daily. There are several religions where being LGBTQ+ is considered immoral. Depending on where you live, LGBTQ+ youth and adults can be the targets of LGBTQ+ discriminatory laws and legislation. With no federal laws in place, protecting LGBTQ+ equality, only court cases granting such rights, LGBTQ+ people often live in fear that judges can reverse rulings and strip away protections. There are several politicians who, over the past few years, have enacted such laws as preventing the mentioning of the existence of LGBTQ+ people in school curriculums to banning trans youth from participating in sports.
Imagine having to go to work every day, and actively hide who you are dating, places you go after work, who your friends are, and scrub all social media from any indication that you are LGBTQ+ for fear that an employer will find out and terminate you or subject you to harassment. It’s exhausting. From discrimination in housing, pay inequalities, and disparities in access to medical care, these are just a few of the pressures that LGBTQ+ people in the United States deal with every day.
From the fear that a medical provider will actively discriminate against you and deny care based on your sexual orientation or gender identity, to the various microaggressions LGBTQ+ individuals face while receiving treatment or even while attempting to link for services, many LGBTQ+ people will not attempt to seek help.
Although there are many providers who strive to remove those barriers and create LGBTQ+ affirming and specific programs, there are external factors that again, create stigma and halt people from seeking care. For example, the recent nonbinding opinion issued from the Office of the Attorney General in Texas that gender affirming medical treatment “when performed on children, can legally constitute child abuse” and then under threat of criminal prosecution, called on any licensed professionals, including doctors, nurses, and teachers, to report families who affirm their transgender children for potential investigation.