Overview: The Basics
The LGBTQ community as a whole is drastically more susceptible to mental illnesses and disorders when compared to other demographics. This higher vulnerability can be directly linked to prejudice, lack of support, and discrimination against the community. Often referred to as “minority stress,” LGBTQ individuals find it difficult to cope with the stigma and harassment that target them. In addition, they also have to deal with the stress of understanding their identity and the general stigma surrounding mental health disorders.
On top of this, individuals often have great difficulty seeking help, especially if their sexuality or gender identity is not in public knowledge. As Sal Raichbach, PsyD emphasizes, “Sadly, only a small percentage of people actively seek professional help for their mental health problems.” There is a great fear of being discriminated against or ridiculed when attempting to find support from family, friends, and even the health care industry.
Health care providers have a history of being unwilling, unhelpful, or unequipped when it comes to treating LGBTQ individuals that have some kind of mental health issue. Transgender and transsexual people have reported quite a lot of disparity within the health care industry. Since their gender and sex may not match up, or their physical appearance may not reflect their gender identity, doctors and health care professionals have difficulty treating them. They are also much more susceptible to unhelpful or unwilling mental health care.
Of course, this gap in modern health care is nothing compared to the history of the relationship of mental health and LGBTQ. As recent as 1950, homosexuality, bisexuality, and other sexualities were considered to be a mental illness in itself. Because of this, it was common for individuals in the 1950’s and 60’s to have been given unwanted, harsh treatments. Common treatments of this time included electroshock therapy, aversion therapy, and hospitalization.
Suicide in the Community
Within individuals who fit into LGBTQ ages 10-24, suicide is a leading cause of death. As for youth in the LGBTQ community, they are four times more likely to commit suicide. Just like the vulnerability of mental health, this increase of suicide rates is also the result of discrimination and stigma, or minority stress. And according to Torey C. Richards, LMHC “Sometimes the reasons people don’t recognize the signs of suicide is because they are in denial, especially when it comes to those close to them.”
An alarming 75% of LGBTQ individuals have reported having been discriminated or harassed in some way, warranting this stress. Transgender and transsexual individuals have some of the worst experiences, which justifies how 38-65% of trans individuals have had thoughts of suicide.
Since there is so much worry of being discriminated against, family support is crucial to LGBTQ individuals. In regards to suicide, those who aren’t accepted by their family members or loved ones are eight times more likely to attempt suicide when compared to LGBTQ individuals who are accepted.
Common Mental Illnesses
LGBTQ individuals often see their mental illnesses and disorders manifest when they’re younger. It’s not uncommon for younger individuals to be diagnosed with their mental illness before the recognition of their sexuality. Within the LGBTQ community, here are the most common mental illnesses and disorders:
- Anxiety Disorders: constant feeling of being overwhelmed or out of control, even when completely unwarranted
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): repetitive, undesirable thoughts and compulsions carried out by uncontrollable impulses
- Depression: the unshakable feeling of extreme sadness, often accompanied by hopelessness and guilt. Dr. Kurt Smith, LMFT, LPCC, AFC also elaborates that “Feeling hopeless often leads to anger in men as opposed to the lethargy that can manifest in women. As a result, depression in men can be particularly hard to spot sometimes because it doesn’t look like we think it should.”
- Bipolar Disorder: dramatic, uncontrollable mood swings, often going from extreme lows to extreme highs or vice versa
Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
As is the case with most individuals with mental disorders, LGBTQ diagnosed with mental illnesses often turn to damaging coping mechanisms in an attempt to deal with their feelings and emotions. Because many LGBTQ people have difficulty seeking treatment or support, these coping mechanisms are much more prevalent. Here are the most common harmful coping mechanisms:
- substance abuse of drugs or alcohol
- reckless behavior, such as unprotected sex, putting one’s self in dangerous situations, and other circumstances
Importance of Seeking Treatment
Individuals within the LGBTQ community are already at high risk, and going without being diagnosed or treated for serious mental illnesses can be even more detrimental to a person. If you or someone you know is going through a mental illness, remember that seeking help is crucial to recovery. If gone untreated, mental disorders can worsen, aid in the development of more mental illnesses, and can lead to suicidal tendencies.