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 who has transitioned into a female, and how does society react? Hurtful comments, discrimination, and lack of support.
Just imagine the years of piled-up emotions of keeping your gender preference, plus years of dealing with harsh opinions of society, how do you think does this affect their mental health? Choosing a gender preference that is different from what others expect does not make you less of a person. The lasting mental health effects of prejudice and discrimination in the LGTBQ community must be addressed.
This article is to shed some light on the mental health challenges the LGBTQ community face, 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.
Here’s what we all need to know about the prevalence of mental health challenges in the LGBTQ community:
- Lesbian, gay, bisexual, or asexual teens are six times more likely to experience depression symptoms than non-LGBTQ youth.
- 48% 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 as compared to heterosexuals.
Alarming isn’t it? How have we arrived in an era where being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or asexual can affect a person’s mental health? A person’s orientation or gender identity cannot define how good of a person you 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
In this part of the article, let us discuss some terms. LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Q stands for ‘Question’. This means a person is in the process of exploring one’s sexuality. Sexual orientation or gender identity are two different terms. For non-LGBT to converse well and be sensitive about these topics, it is better to get oriented about terms involving the LGTBQ. Here’s what you need to know:
- Heterosexuality: A person who is sexually attracted to the opposite sex (Male to female and vice versa)
- Homosexuality: 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, Masculizing Hormone Therapy+ can introduce male hormones to the body that can change voice and hair growth. Also, breast implants and sex reassignment surgery are done by transgenders. However, not all procedures must be undergone to be considered transgender.
- Questioning: This is a person in the process of questioning one’s gender identity and sexual orientation. This is also known as ‘Queer’.
- Gender Identity: It is defined as how a person views or expresses oneself. It can be from 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 gay can still dress like a girl (so that’s her gender identity) but are sexually attracted to women. A transgender who dresses like a woman is considered feminine.
- Sexual Orientation: Sexual orientation refers to the term of who a person is romantically, physically, emotionally attracted to. An example of sexual preference is a gay man who is attracted to also a man. Gay and bisexual are examples of sexual orientation. A person may have a different sexual orientation or gender identity, and vice versa.
Issues Affecting the Mental Health of the LGBTQ Community
There are many mental health issues affecting the LGBTQ community. You have to admit, you have witnessed this 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 can 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 issues on LGBTQ. As compared to decades prior, we have become more sensitive to these issues. But the issue not talked about much is how it is affecting the mental health of a person. Here are some of the mental health concerns and reasons behind that need to be addressed in the gay and bisexual community.
The ‘Coming Out’
The greatest struggle of a gay person is coming out. Telling your friends or family who have a different opinion about sexual preference or gender identity may be challenging. You can be afraid that you will be judged, afraid to be rejected, not accepted by peers or things will change in the family home dynamics.
Persons who keep quiet about their stories or about their sexuality need mental health support. Can you imagine living a life pretending to someone you’re not because you’re afraid of what the people around you will say? Of course, this will cause anxiety and stress, and this is not good for emotional and mental health.
LGBTQ Discrimination and Bullying
Then there’s the discrimination and bullying that most members of the LGBTQ community experience at least once in their life, for some it’s an everyday struggle. Have you heard companies not accepting gay bisexual and transgender employees? Have you seen shops discriminating against gay shopping for women’s clothes? The discrimination and bullying even start at school and can greatly affect the self-esteem of a child.
Harassment, Hate Crimes, Physical and Verbal Abuse
We’ve heard the news of hate crimes, harassment, physical and verbal abuse in the LGBTQ community. The hurtful words like dyke, faggot, queer are some of the verbal abuse experienced by LGBTQ communities. There are also hate crimes, like vandalism on their cars or in their home. This all sounds surreal, but there are some people who still do this.
LGBT youth also experience physical abuse from their parents if they act the way 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 others. These events lead to stress, depression, anxiety, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
How would you feel if you’re constantly attacked because of your sexual orientation and gender identity? LGBT people who cannot cope well with these mental and emotional torture resort to substance abuse. People resorting to excessive drinking or using recreational drugs can potentially worsen their mental health. Remember that drinking doesn’t solve your problems, drinking too much alcohol can affect your mental health.
Culture and Tradition
Because of culture, tradition, and religious beliefs, there are communities that don’t have an open mind in accepting gays and lesbians. Due to the cultural and societal barriers, many LGBT people opt not to reveal their true gender identity. In Kenya for instance, it is illegal that both men engage in sexual activities under the Kenya Penal Code.
Accessing Mental Health Services
LGBT people find it hard to access mental health services due to the stigma and lack of support. Those who have HIV AIDS are hesitant to go see a doctor because of the fear of being judged, and this has to stop. Some people from the LGBT community even prefer not to seek mental help because they are afraid to get discriminated against and the mental health disparities present in the community. Others prefer to have mental health care professional who also is a member of the LGBT community to feel more comfortable.
We All Should Show Support and Respect
There are many options you can do to show support to the LGBT community. Simple acts by showing respect and kindness go a long way. Start with acceptance and regardless you have opposing opinions, choose the right words, and always choose kindness. You don’t know what they’ve been through, or if they’re already battling to keep their mental well-being intact.
Everyone wants to be accepted for who they are and we all need to respect each other, so that’s what you should do. 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 help put a stop to discrimination and bullying. With these small steps at your home or in the office, you can make a big difference to show support to the LGBTQ community.
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 these negativities, 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, your happiness starts in you.
Heal in meaningful ways by joining support groups with other LGBT people, boost your self-esteem with peer support. Most importantly, do not hesitate to seek mental health care. With therapy with the mental health providers of Kentucky Counseling Center, you may be able to answer questions about your sexuality, avoid serious mental health problems and learn how to cope in life. The mental health care providers of Kentucky Counseling Center are here to help you through all the way. If you want, you can request a therapist from the LGBT community too.