Not always rainbows: mental health in the LGBTQIA+ community
Katy Kandaris, LPC
Let’s start off by acknowledging that the LGBTQIA+ community is not monolithic and there are many unique challenges that are faced by individuals depending on the sexual and gender identity they hold as well as visibility of these identities in potentially unsafe environments. That being said, much of the present research on sexual and gender diversity is presented collectively to identify trends and concerns to the community at large, and those concerns will be the focus of this post. If you would like more detailed information about any particular community within the LGBTQIA+ umbrella, please let us know!
Recent research has shown that…
LGBTQ+ individuals experience mental health disorders, substance use disorders, and suicidality at a higher rate than their heterosexual counterparts. Symptoms for mental health disorders tend to be more serious than those of heterosexual individuals, as well.
LGBQ youths are over four times more likely to attempt suicide that heterosexual young people and around one out of every five trans youth has attempted suicide. In a 2021 meta-analysis of nearly 2,500 relevant articles by Williams et al., rates of self-harming behaviors were reported at 65% for LGBQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, and Question) youths and 46% of TGNC (Transgender and Gender Non-conforming) youths.
LGBTQ+ individuals are also more likely to face minority stress, discrimination, stigmatization, victimization, and violence on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity. Young LGBTQIA+ people are also reported by NAMI to be 120% of a higher risk for homelessness.
LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to experience difficulties in receiving health care and yet, rates of use for mental health services are higher for LGBTQ+ individuals than non-LGBTQ+ folks.
The LGBTQIA+ community faces a disproportionate level of mental and emotional distress, and requires specialized and competent care from mental health providers to address the specific needs and experiences that come with a minority identity. Conversely, it is important to note that there is a great deal of critique and mistrust towards the mental health field from members of the LGBTQIA+ community – and for good reason!
The American Psychological Association played a large part in the stigmatization of homosexuality when it was classified as a mental disorder in the original publication of the DSM in 1952. This gave way to inhumane and torturous treatments for gay individuals, like mistreatment through psychopharmaceutical medications, lobotomies, electro-convulsive shock therapy, and conversion/aversion practices in the name of “curing” individuals of their homosexuality. Activists lobbied for the removal of homosexuality from the DSM for two decades, until 1973 when APA finally eliminated it as a diagnosis.
Conversion practices have also since been denounced by the APA as ineffective, harmful, and scientifically unfounded. Even so, the systematic banning of conversion practices is slow-going and has not yet eradicated the practice in its entirety, especially in coaching and faith-based counseling services that are not regulated by the APA or ACA. This makes many gay and gender-diverse clients vulnerable to maltreatment even today.
This is not at all to say that there is anything wrong or pathological about holding an identity under this umbrella. This is to show the impact and validate the pain of living in a world that is actively fighting against your safety and humanity. As someone who has been through the process of looking for queer-affirming mental health services as a mandatory prerequisite for feeling safe and able to connect with my therapist, I know how challenging the process can be and the vulnerability that comes with being uncertain of what professional will truly affirm and champion my identity. At Inner Balance Counseling, we are committed to providing care that centers you and embraces every part of what makes you who you are. If you saw yourself in any of these statistics, don’t be afraid to seek help. We are here for you.