In society today, it’s sad that being yourself and standing up for your gender preference can impose a challenge in life. We have known many friends that are afraid to come out to their loved ones about their real gender. We see celebrities like Bruce Jenner, now known as Caitlyn Jenner, suffer hurtful comments, discrimination, and lack of support for transitioning into a female.
Imagine years of having pent-up emotions because you have to keep your gender preference a secret, including all those times you had to deal with the harsh opinions of society. How do you think this affects their mental health?
The lasting mental health effects of prejudice and discrimination in the LGTBQ community must be addressed for this reason. Preferring a gender that is different from what others expect does not make you less of a person.
This article sheds light on the mental health challenges the LGBTQ community faces, how society can help, and raise awareness that being yourself by standing up for your sexual orientation is needed for the wellness of emotional and mental health.
The Prevalence of Mental Health Challenges in the LGBTQ Community at a Glance
- Lesbian, gay, bisexual, or asexual teens are six times more likely to experience depression symptoms than non-LGBTQ youth.
- Forty-eight percent of transgender adults in the US consider committing suicide.
- One out of three LGBTQ adults experiences mental health conditions.
- LGTBQ individuals who live in a gender-discriminating community are more likely to have mental health issues and suicide attempts.
- There are higher rates of substance use disorder among the LGBTQ compared to heterosexuals.
Alarming, isn’t it? This is why it’s important to address the mental health challenges of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender individuals, and asexuals.
A person’s orientation or gender identity cannot define how good they are. Regardless of the person’s race, skin color, or gender preference, we all must treat each other with respect and kindness.
Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation
LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning. Individuals that are questioning are in the process of exploring their sexuality. Sexual orientation and gender identity are two different terms. Sexual orientation refers to whom a person is romantically, physically, and emotionally attracted. An example of sexual preference is a gay man who is attracted to another man.
Gay and bisexual are examples of sexual orientation. A person may have a different sexual orientation or gender identity, and vice versa.
Gender identity is defined as how a person views or expresses themself. This can be reflected in a person’s expressions, clothing, or hairstyle.
Gender identity examples are feminine, masculine, or androgynous (partly male or female). For example, people who identify as lesbian can still dress like a female (so that’s her gender identity) but are sexually attracted to women. A transgender who dresses like a woman is considered feminine.
It would be good for non-LGBT people to get oriented about the basic terms involved in the LGTBQ concept to converse well and be sensitive about these topics. Here’s what you need to know:
- Heterosexual: A person who is sexually attracted to the opposite sex (male to female and vice versa)
- Homosexual: A person who is sexually attracted to a person of the same sex (female to female, male to male). This can be the general term also known as “gay.”
- Asexual: A person who does not have sexual desires for both genders
- Lesbian: A woman who is sexually, physically, and emotionally attracted to another woman. Lesbians also identify themselves as gay or gay women.
- Bisexual: A person who is physically, emotionally, or romantically attracted to both men and women
- Transgender: Transgender or transexuals undergo sex modification to have secondary sex characteristics through surgery or hormones different from their sexual orientation at birth. For example, masculinizing hormone therapy+ can introduce male hormones to the body that can change voice and hair growth. Transgenders can also go for breast implants and sex reassignment surgery, although not all procedures must be undergone to be considered transgender.
- Questioning: A person in the process of questioning one’s gender identity and sexual orientation (also known as “queer”)
Issues Affecting the LGBTQ Community’s Mental Health
There are many mental health issues affecting the LGBTQ community. You may have already witnessed these issues at least once in your life. You may have a friend or family member who is afraid to come out because of the fear of how people will perceive them. Maybe you have encountered someone in school who was constantly bullied because of being gay.
Our society has come a long way when it comes to LGBTQ issues. We have become more sensitive to them compared to the past decades. But the issue not talked about much is how being LGBTQ affects the mental health of a person. Here are some of the mental health concerns and reasons behind them that need to be addressed in the LGBTQ community.
1. The Pressure and Stigma of ‘Coming Out’
The greatest struggle of a gay person is coming out. Telling your friends or family who have a different opinion about sexual preferences or gender identity can be challenging. You might be afraid you will be judged or rejected by your peers or that things will change in the family home dynamics if you come out to those around you.
Persons who keep quiet about their stories or their sexuality need mental health support. Can you imagine living a life pretending to be someone you’re not because you’re afraid of what the people around you will say? This will inevitably cause anxiety and stress, which are not good for emotional and mental health.
2. LGBTQ Discrimination and Bullying
Then there’s the discrimination and bullying that most members of the LGBTQ community experience, at least occasionally in their life. For some, it’s an everyday struggle.
Have you heard companies not accepting gay, bisexual, or transgender employees? Have you seen shops discriminating against gay men shopping for women’s clothes? The discrimination and bullying even start at school and can greatly affect a child’s self-esteem.
3. Harassment, Hate Crimes, Physical and Verbal Abuse
We’ve heard the news of hate crimes, harassment, and physical and verbal abuse in the LGBTQ community. Being called hurtful words like “dyke” and “faggot” are some of the verbal abuse experienced by LGBTQ communities. There are also hate crimes, like vandalism on their cars or homes. This all sounds surreal, but some people still do this.
LGBTQ youth also experience physical abuse from their parents if they act in a way that is not expected of them. Come to think of it, the family and peers must be the ones extending their support and care for a family member. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen to some who identify as LGBTQ. These events lead to stress, depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
4. Substance Use
How would you feel if you were constantly attacked because of your sexual orientation and gender identity? LGBT people who cannot cope well with such mental and emotional torture resort to substance abuse. People engaging in excessive drinking or using recreational drugs can potentially worsen their mental health. Remember that drinking doesn’t solve your problems, as drinking too much alcohol can affect your mental health.
5. Culture and Tradition
Because of culture, tradition, and religious beliefs, there are communities that don’t have an open mind when it comes to accepting gays and lesbians. Many LGBTQ people opt not to reveal their true gender identity because of such socio-cultural barriers. In Kenya, for instance, it is illegal for two men to engage in sexual activities under the Kenya Penal Code.
6. Accessing Mental Health Services
LGBTQ people find it hard to access mental health services because of the stigma and lack of support. Those who have HIV AIDS are hesitant to go see a doctor due to the fear of being judged. This has to stop.
Some people from the LGBTQ community even prefer not to seek mental help because they are afraid of getting discriminated against. The mental health disparities present in the community are also worrying to them. And then there are others who prefer to go to a mental health care professional who also is a member of the LGBT community to feel more comfortable.
We All Should Show Support and Respect for People Who Identify as LGBTQ
There are many things you can do to show support to the LGBT community. Simple acts that show respect and kindness go a long way.
Start with accepting them regardless of whether you have opposing opinions. Choose the right words and always show compassion. You don’t know what they’ve been through or what they’re already battling to keep their mental well-being intact.
Everyone wants to be accepted for who they are, so we should all try to respect each other, regardless of sexual orientation or personal beliefs. If you see someone making derogatory comments to LGBTQ people, kindly correct them. Who knows, maybe you can make a difference in the way they think. However, avoid involving yourself in a heated conversation.
LGBT people need acceptance in society, so this must be the goal. Help spread awareness and put a stop to discrimination and bullying. You can make a big difference to show support to the LGBTQ community with these small steps at your home or office.
For the LGBT Community: Take Care of Your Mental Health
For all LGBT people out there, please always take care of your mental health. Learn how to cope with all the negativity because what other people say about you can’t pay your bills. It must not bring you down. Others’ opinions about you won’t make you happy because your happiness starts within you.
Heal in meaningful ways by joining support groups with other LGBT people to boost your self-esteem with peer support. Most importantly, do not hesitate to seek mental health care.
Having therapy with the mental health providers of Kentucky Counseling Center could help you answer questions about your sexuality, avoid serious mental health problems, and learn how to cope in life. The mental health care providers at Kentucky Counseling Center can help you every step of the way. You can request a therapist from the LGBT community if you want.