It is officially the start of Pride Month, which means celebrating the diverse sexual orientations and gender identities of people all across the country. The LGBTQ+ community is made up of people who identify as Lesbian (L), Gay (G), Bisexual (B), Trans (T), Queer (Q), or other sexual orientations and gender identities such as asexual, pansexual, transexual, and intersex.
While Pride month is a time to celebrate who you are, it’s also a time to bring to light the disparities the queer community still faces.
For example, 4.5% of the US population identifies as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Of that, 39% reported having a mental illness (source). LGBTQ+ folks are also more at risk for physical health concerns and discrimination in the health care system.
This is a fact that will only go away with intentional awareness and change. What health concerns are queer people facing? And more importantly, what can be done about it?
Members of the LGBTQ community are more at risk for developing mental health concerns such as:
- Suicidal thoughts/Ideation
As well as other physical health concerns such as:
- Older LGBT adults are more at risk for developing cancers and cardiovascular diseases, probably due to discrimination and lack of access to quality health care (source).
- Homelessness (LGBT youth and adults have a 120% increased risk of homelessness) (source)
LGBT Youth are at higher risk for (source):
- substance use
- sexually transmitted diseases (STDs),
- cardiovascular diseases
Society has come a long way in accepting non-conforming gender and sexual identities. However, it’s only been 7 years since gay marriage was legalized in the US, and we still have a way to go. In a 2013 study, 40% of LGBT adults experienced rejection from a close friend or family member after coming out to them. Rejection of sexual orientation or gender identity is known to be a risk factor for future mental health concerns, especially anxiety and mood disorders.
Studies have shown that members of the LGBTQ+ community are more at risk for violence, assault, and hate.
- 57% of LGBTQ+ people say they or an LGBTQ+ friend or family member has been threatened or non-sexually harassed (source)
- 51% have been or have a friend or family member who has been sexually harassed (source)
- 51% have experienced violence because of their sexuality or gender identity (source)
- 38% of transgender people have experienced slurs (source)
Young people, especially teens, who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or otherwise gender/sexuality nonconforming are the most at-risk for increased mental health concerns.
- LGBTQ+ teens are 6 times more likely to experience depression symptoms than their peers (source)
- LGBTQ+ Youth are more than twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts and four times more likely to attempt suicide (source)
- LGBT youth are twice as likely to be bullied by their peers (source).
- 33% of LGBTQ youth say their families are not accepting of their gender or sexual identity. (source).
Studies have also shown that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teens don’t feel safe reaching out. 60% of queer youth did not report bullying incidents to the adults in their school.
Research has proven that acceptance of gender and sexual orientation identities plays a major role in mental health. However, research also points towards discrimination and societal stigma directed towards LGBT individuals that result in health disparities. (source)
Creating a safe space to talk about queer issues is vital in providing the support for good mental health. This is especially important in schools, colleges, and health care offices (mental and physical health care).
What we can do
As Health Care Providers –
- Don’t assume gender identity or sexual orientation. Create screening questions for all patients. This eliminates the need for your patient to come out to you and increases the likelihood of them pursuing health care.
- Stay educated on the ongoings of the queer community including civil rights movements, and new studies in LGBTQ+ mental and physical health, and be aware of the unique backgrounds and risk factors associated with being queer.
- Provide community – Some people just want to talk to someone else that gets it. Having LGBTQ folks on your staff helps provide a sense of belonging and community.
As families and friends:
- Address any biases in yourself first– we live in a heteronormative culture where cis and straight is the assumption and everything else is different. We all have biases as a result of growing up in that culture. Take some time to think about your own thoughts and beliefs about the LGBTQ community.
- Listen first – We all have opinions and thoughts. But when it comes to queer topics, listen first and then, if appropriate, share your own thoughts. Remember that sometimes though, your queer friend just needs a safe space to vent and isn’t looking for advice.
- Don’t treat them any differently– at the end of the day, people are people and want to be treated as such. Affirm your friend’s identity by using the right pronouns and celebrating their wins.
As a Queer Person:
Taking care of your mental and physical health is a lot of work, made even more strenuous by the barriers you might have as a queer-identifying person. To help, we’ve put together a list of resources that can remove some of those barriers and get you access to the mental and physical health care you deserve:
- To find LGBTQ+ affirming health care providers: GLMA
- To find a one-stop-shop for LGBTQ+ Health Centers (great at pointing you in the right direction for local mental and physical health care providers): LGBT Centers
- For Transgender specific health- WPATH
- For Mental Health Services, especially suicide prevention: The Trevor Project
Don’t be hesitant to reach out to crisis text and call lines if you need someone to talk to now:
- LGBT National Hotline- 1-888-843-4564
- Trans Lifeline- 877-565-8860
- The Trevor Project- 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678-678
Rivia Mind also offers gender and sexual orientation affirming therapeutic space. We believe in providing the best mental health care to all people, and that means celebrating every aspect of your identity. To find a therapist that specializes in LGBTQ+ issues, click here. Or schedule a free 15-minute consultation today.