Identifying as LGBTQIA+ is NOT a mental illness or disorder. We all have a sexual orientation and a gender identity. Sexual orientation is who we are romantically or physically attracted to, while gender identity is our internal sense of being male, female, both, or neither, separate from our biological sex. Individuals who identify with a different sexual orientation or gender identity from their biological sex typically fall under the umbrella term LGBTQIA+, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual.
According to Mental Health America, 4.5% of the population in the United States identifies as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, with 39% of individuals who identify with the LGBTQIA+ community reporting having experienced mental health challenges in the past year. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community often face more mental health hurdles than individuals who do not identify as LGBTQIA+. As a result of prejudice and stigma surrounding mental health, LGBTQIA+ individuals are more likely to experience depression or anxiety and may struggle to find adequate professional help.
Most LGBTQIA+ individuals are resilient and thrive in the face of adversity with the help of supportive families, friends, peers, and community members. However, members of the LGBTQIA+ community are at a higher risk for experiencing shame, fear, discrimination, and adverse and traumatic events in their lifetimes. There are often many negative stereotypes about identifying as LGBTQIA+, which makes individuals in the community uncomfortable disclosing this important part of their identity with others. It is not uncommon for LGBTQIA+ members to face rejection from peers, colleagues, friends, and family when they openly express their sexual orientation or gender identity. This can create feelings of isolation and loneliness that can be difficult to overcome.
It is important to accept individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+. Research highlights the benefits of being able to live as one identifies and to be loved regardless of sexual identity. Accepting LGBTQIA+ individuals as they wish to be identified opens the door to less stress and helps them increase their self-esteem, which can improve confidence and self-love.
What Mental Health Conditions Affect the LGBTQIA+ Community?
Individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ experience higher rates of mental health issues. According to a study conducted by Rainbow Health, 61% of LGBTQIA+ members suffer from depression, 45% have PTSD, and 36% have an anxiety disorder. Forty percent of transgender individuals have attempted suicide in their lifetime (nearly nine times the overall rate in the U.S.). Unfortunately, stigma and trauma contribute to these challenges in the LGBTQIA+ community and many of these individuals face barriers when seeking quality care for their mental health.
Due to disrespect or discrimination, 10% of LGBTQIA+ individuals postpone care or do not seek treatment from health care providers. Data collected by the U.S. Transgender Survey revealed that 23% of transgender individuals do not seek professional treatment due to fear of being mistreated.
“For anyone in the LGBTQIA+ community who is looking for therapy, here are some questions to ask of your potential therapist,” says Sarah Walgenbach, Clinician at Diversus Health. “Start by sharing, ‘My identity is ____. What experience do you have working with people with this identity?’ Follow up with questions like, ‘What experience do you have with the LGBTQIA+ community? Do you have any specific training or certifications that relate to working with LGBTQIA+ clients?’ It may take several calls and outreach attempts to find the right therapist for you, but do not get discouraged. By stating your needs and asking the right questions, you can find someone who can address your needs mindfully throughout the duration of your treatment.”
How to Respect LGBTQIA+ Individuals
It is possible to be genuine and curious about an individual’s life without being invasive. To start, try asking direct, open-ended questions. If you feel unsure about the language and terms to use with someone who identifies as LGBTQIA+, ask them to tell you their preferred pronouns. Without being defensive, be willing to make mistakes and try again, using their preferred pronouns and language. It is generally considered ill-mannered to ask trans-identifying individuals about their birth name or their transition experience. Apologize if you make a mistake and move on.
How to Help Someone in the LGBTQIA+ Community Who May Be Struggling
If someone you know or love is struggling with mental health and they identify in the LGBTQIA+ community, offer them support the same way you would offer to anyone else. Start by listening with the intent to understand what they are experiencing and ask them how you can help. It is important to respect the individual and demonstrate acceptance through healthy communication and actions. Reciprocate the individual’s language about partners and identity and educate yourself on how to be a supportive ally.
How Pride Can Help with Mental Health
June is Pride month, which provides a healthy space for individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community to connect. This reduces isolation, increases visibility, and validates love and belonging. Pride brings about global awareness while celebrating the rich history of the LGBTQIA+ community, including joy and pain. When we feel connected in a community, we develop improved mental and physical health – we feel whole.
At Diversus Health, we embrace diversity by being inclusive of all people, ideas, and perspectives. We respect others and welcome open-mindedness and curiosity. Every day, we strive to promote mental health and well-being for all. If you or someone you know in the LGBTQIA+ community is struggling to find professional mental health care, request an appointment to speak to one of our providers today.
*If you need immediate assistance, please call our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255.