LGBTQ+ Awareness: Everyone Welcome Here

by Anna Corbi, Family Empowerment Program Team Leader, and M.A. Marino, LMHC, Program Director of PROSper Rehabilitation Services

LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning) individuals are currently experiencing monumental changes in terms of rising visibility, unprecedented advocacy, and shifting public opinion. These changes are combining to provide the LGBTQ+ population with greater acceptance and stronger legal protections than ever before. However, despite these positive changes, many people who identify as LGBTQ+ are still facing enormous barriers to their safety, health, and well-being.

Stigma, prejudice, and societal rejection can have a major impact on the quality of life for the LGBTQ+ community. Imagine feeling as if you have no safe place to go, that you have no one to talk to about your feelings, especially the ones that haunt your darkest moments. Imagine living with the belief that the world doesn’t understand you, that it doesn’t want you, and that no one is there to hear your story. This is the experience that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning community face every day.

It is an uncomfortable reality for some to accept that mental health issues can go hand-in-hand with identifying as LGBTQ+. As a community, this population struggles with mental health issues disproportionately to those who identify as heterosexual, with LGBTQ+ individuals being nearly three times more likely to experience a mental health condition. Fear of coming out and having to face biases and rejection can contribute to mental health issues. Individuals who identify as transgender are 50% more likely to experience depression, and suicide is one of the leading causes of death for LGBTQ+ youth. Victimization, such as violent crimes, sex trafficking, and hate crimes, also accounts for a percentage of this population’s mental health issues. The dual stigma of both mental health and identifying as LGBTQ+ can influence a person’s behavior, to the extent that some individuals report having to hide their sexual orientation from the mental health system in fear of being ridiculed or rejected. LGBTQ+ individuals often suffer in silence, as fear can prevent them from reaching out for help and seeking the support they need.

Along with mental health issues, LGBTQ+ community members report higher rates of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use than that of the population at large. One of the major factors that contributes to substance use by LGBTQ+ people is the lack of understanding in the community and within healthcare systems, as well as minimal peer support. In a school environment, adolescents are often fearful of having to face hate, ridicule, or prejudice, which often leaves them feeling alone and unwanted. It is time for this to change.

So what can we do about this? How can we support our youth and individuals struggling with these issues?

Here are some steps we can all take:

  • First and foremost, talk. Talk about these issues with family, friends, and children with an open and curious mindset.
  • Create a home, school, work, or healthcare environment that outwardly expresses that everyone is welcome, accepted, and belongs. Whether that means displaying rainbow flags during Pride Month or offering LGBTQ+ friendly resources to the community, that is up to you.
  • Ask questions when you’re unsure. If someone comes to you identifying as gender non-conforming, ask them what pronouns they prefer. If you don’t know what “+” means in the LGBTQ+, ask. If a loved one is struggling with depression, school-refusal behaviors, or social anxiety, inquire about sexuality and gender-related issues.

These are just some small opportunities to open doors and end the silent suffering of LGBTQ+ individuals.

Awareness of the battles facing members of the LGBTQ+ community is a critical component to offering access to resources, providing support, and taking on the world with an open, empathetic perspective. Through access to LGBTQ+ inclusive providers, those who struggle with mental health and substance use issues can seek help and begin their recovery journey.