Although this year’s Pride Month has come to an end, every single day offers the chance to reaffirm our support for all types of love. Along with this, we also ought to examine some of the fundamental issues faced by the LGBTQ community.
The momentous 2015 landmark decision ruling same-sex marriage legal in all 50 U.S. states illustrates how modern sociocultural shifts are allowing for a better, more expansive understanding of gender and sexuality. Across political parties and age groups, more people than ever are agreeing on LGBTQ rights.
But despite this growing support, people in LGBTQ communities remain at a higher risk for mental health problems than the general population. Here are some harrowing statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness:
- LGBTQ individuals are 3 times more likely to experience a mental health condition, and 4 times more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the general population.
- Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for LGBTQ individuals aged 10-24.
- 38-65% of transgender individuals experience suicidal ideation
- 20-30% of LGBTQ individuals abuse substances, as opposed to 9% of the general population
- 25% of LGBTQ people abuse alcohol, as opposed to 5-10% of the general population.
All of these numbers point to a need for better understanding the complex barriers the LGBTQ community face, especially when it comes to mental health.
Battling the double stigma
Individuals in the LGBTQ community must battle stigma and prejudice that is not only based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, but also the negative stigma surrounding mental health. Some people report having to hide their sexual orientation, and some hide their mental health conditions from their friends and family. However, most hide both.
As reported by the Human Rights Campaign, 92% of 10,000 LGBT youth report hearing negative messages about their identity, predominantly from school, the internet, or their peers. In tandem, the stigma against their identity and general mental illness exacerbates isolation and rejection. Both of these are hallmark influencers of mental illness.
Providers and healthcare systems are held responsible for evaluating potential biases towards patients and implementing training programs to combat those biases. Especially among LGBTQ individuals, there is an ongoing sense of distrust, fear of safety, and hesitation when it comes to healthcare engagement. A 2015 study by Sabin et al. investigated implicit attitudes for heterosexual-identifying patients versus LG-identifying patients. Some of the findings are listed below:
- 20% of transgender and gender non-conforming people reported facing abusive language by a healthcare professional.
- 8% of LGB, 27% of transgender and gender-nonconforming, and 20% of HIV+ individuals reported being denied of needed healthcare outright.
- 34% of LGBT physicians reported observing discriminatory care of an LGBT patient.
Such scenarios contribute to the negative sentiments the LGBTQ community may have towards healthcare systems. To avoid reducing their access, it is important to ensure that every patient is receiving equal quality of care.
Fortunately, there have been great strides made in the nearly 35 years since the APA removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Last month, thousands of people filled the streets LGBTQ pride: tireless advocates, activists, legislators, and allies. The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth. The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA), the oldest and largest association of LGBTQ healthcare professionals, fights for equality within healthcare settings. The National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network advocates for healing, grounded in social justice. Finally, our clinic is also committed to providing stigma-free mental healthcare for all.
*Throughout this article, the term “LGBTQ” has been modified depending on the terminology and the specific groups referenced in the corresponding research studies.
By Tasfia Jahangir