If you’re straight and cisgender, chances are you’ve been growing up in a world where you’re free to express yourself and form romantic relationships relatively easy. The same cannot be said about the LGBT community. This same world is a place that discriminates against them, labels them, and treats them with prejudice. As a result of that hostile reality, LGBT individuals are more likely to struggle with depression and anxiety at some point in their lives. Why is that the case? What factors come into play? What can we do to support the LGBT community? This Pride Month, we want to raise awareness, start an open conversation and help remove stigma linked to LGBT people and mental health.
Did you know that:
- around 30-60% of LGBT people struggle with anxiety or depression? It’s 1.5-2.5 times more than heterosexual and cisgender individuals.
- 23% of LGBT youth attempted suicide compared to 6% of their straight counterparts.
When compared to the general population, the LGBT community struggles more frequently with depression, anxiety, and other matters related to those mental disorders. To help us understand more about this complex issue, it’s crucial to consider the broader context of LGBT people.
Imagine not being able to express yourself and live freely. Something as simple as wearing the clothes you like, going on a date or holding hands in public would be unattainable for you while well within reach of the rest of humanity. Imagine hearing that who you are and who you love is wrong, constantly, day after day. That’s a one-way street to experiencing self-loathing, shame, anxiety, low self-esteem and worthlessness, which is often at the essence of depression and low mood.
Lack of Support System
For many LGBT people, these issues start arising in adolescence. It’s a tricky time for any teenager. Yet, it presents entirely new challenges for LGBT youth as they’re more likely to become victims of bullying, harassment or even physical violence.
As much as 55% of LGBT teens feel unsafe at school due to their sexual orientation & 37% due to their gender expression. Naturally, these are the same teens whose academic performance is usually lower compared to the rest of their peers. School is just one part of the more complex issue.
Struggling with painful emotions, figuring out one’s identity and not having a safe space, a support system to turn to can be particularly difficult. Many parents do not accept their children upon learning that they’re LGBT. A place that was once home is now associated with stress and anxiety, a battlefield of chronic conflict, or even a location to avoid at all costs.
4.2 million young people become homeless each year. 40% of them are LGBT. What’s even scarier is that they’re just 7% of the general youth.
Because of the exposure to constant prejudice aimed at the LGBT community, many people learn the skill of monitoring themselves and reading how safe a social situation is in terms of being authentic to who they are. In turn, the external world affects their internal life. Hiding who you are creates a perfect environment for social anxiety disorder (SAD) to develop. It has the power to shape such core beliefs as:
- “I am hopeless, unworthy of love, and broken”
- “Others won’t like me”
- “I will be judged”.
Discrimination is, unfortunately, more than that. It’s everywhere. It’s at school, at work, at home. It’s in the flawed legal system that offers no protection for the LGBT minority. In so many countries, LGBT people deal with the anxiety connected to the uncertain situation regarding their job position or housing. Many individuals choose to keep their private life separate and remain closeted at work as they believe revealing their truer selves would ruin their careers. There’s also no housing protection available in many parts of the world for the LGBT community. That can only further exacerbate depression and anxiety.
The staggering difference between the sexual minority and heterosexual population is well explained by a phenomenon called minority stress.
In a nutshell, it’s the increased level of chronic stress experienced by the LGBT community due to facing stigma, prejudice, homo/transphobia and discrimination over an extended period. Minority stress is not to be taken lightly. Studies have shown its long-lasting, negative effect on the mental health of LGBT individuals. According to ADAA, “it creates a situation ripe for struggling with anxiety and depression”.
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Tips To Support LGBT community
Naturally, the question arises: “What can we do to make this situation better? How can we support the LGBT community?”.
1) Willingness to Learn More:
To put it shortly, awareness is key. If you’re not sure what gender identity is, how to use inclusive language or you feel lost in the sea of terminology, simply educate yourself! You can start here and continue with the resources linked down below.
Don’t assume you know everything, be willing to make mistakes and replace any homophobic beliefs with inclusive ones. When in doubt, go ahead and ask your LGBT loved ones for clarification respectfully.
Using a correct pronoun when talking to them might seem like a small thing to you, yet it’s a building block in strengthening their self-confidence as well as recognising and accepting their identity. Even if it might feel strange, it can help challenge long held negative self-beliefs.
2) Being A Compassionate Friend:
Cultivate a compassionate and open dialogue with your LGBT friends or family members. Make them feel seen, heard, and loved for who they are. Remember that coming out or discussing some hardships connected to their experience can be anxiety-inducing. Try to create a safe space for your loved one so that they can trust you and feel comfortable.
3) The Importance of Community:
Being an ally also means supporting the larger community, for example, by celebrating pride. It is very important for LGBT people because it makes them feel loved, accepted, and supported by others. It also creates opportunities to meet other LGBT individuals, share stories and create connections. Much like feminism, pride also represents the fight for human rights and equality, one which ultimately benefits the whole of society, not just the LGBT community.
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Admitting to yourself that you need help can be pretty difficult. What’s even more challenging is actively looking for support in a hostile environment. It not only requires you to overcome the stigma revolving around mental health issues but also to be brave enough to disclose your sexual orientation or gender identity to a professional.
If it’s too overwhelming to you currently, try:
- Learning breathing exercises and relaxation techniques to relieve stress and anxiety
- Taking care of your health through a balanced diet and regular physical activity
- Spending time in nature to calm your mind
- Asking a trusted friend for help
- Joining a support group
- Using self-help resources (linked down below)
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Lastly, consider therapy such as CBT (and third-wave CBT approaches like ACT). It will help you identify and adjust your unhelpful core beliefs so that you can look at your life more realistically. However, it is crucial to find a professional who’s an ally to the LGBT community and recognises the hardships specific to your context.
If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety and you’d like to start therapy, give us a shout. Contact us for a free 15-minute consultation and find your perfect fit.