The relationship between mental health and LGBTQIA+ individuals has historically been extremely fraught. “Homosexuality” was considered a serious mental illness in the DSM until 1987. American society has only recently begun to recognize LGBTQIA+ individuals and their rights, including the marriage equality act in 2015. There is also an increase in support and representation in today’s pop culture. However, identifying as LGBTQIA+ in many spaces is still highly stigmatized and even still seen as a mental health disorder. In fact, many states still grant extreme measures of conversion therapy as a means of “treatment.” Individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community experience many challenges in everyday life, including mental health challenges.
The rate of suicide attempts is four times greater for lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and two times greater for questioning youth than that of heterosexual youth.
LGBTQ individuals are 2.5 times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance misuse compared with heterosexual individuals.
Women who identify as lesbian/bisexual are more than twice as likely to engage in heavy (alcohol) drinking in the past month than heterosexual women (8.0% vs. 4.4%).
Transgender individuals who identify as African American/black, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian/Alaska Native, or Multiracial/Mixed Race are at increased risk of suicide attempts than white transgender individuals.
40% of transgender adults have attempted suicide in their lifetime, compared to less than 5% of the general U.S. population.
Challenges LGBTQIA+ Individuals Experience
So what is at the root of the mental health issues and harrowing rates of attempted suicide among LGBTQIA+ youth and adults? Many of those in the LGBTQIA+ community struggle with depression, anxiety or addiction in varying levels. Some social factors that one in this community may experience include rejection by loved ones or communities, bullying, discrimination, homelessness, or violence.
Many individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community also experience trauma on various levels. This can include microaggressions, such as being misgendered, or even physical or sexual violence. Additionally, LGBTQIA+ individuals do not have equitable access to health care and services because of stigma, trauma, discrimination, or lack of awareness from providers or organizations. In fact, there is a high possibility of LGBTQIA+ individuals experiencing re-traumatization of their experiences because of the lack of awareness and education on part of providers or mental health professionals.
How can I help my child?
If you are the parent or guardian of a queer child, you are their most important source of love and support. According to clinical therapist Joe Kort, author of “LGBTQ Clients in Therapy,” “Family matters most. If you’re a high rejecting family, you’re going to put that child in harm’s way. Suicidality will increase the more rejecting the family is.”
Here are 5 ways to help you be the best ally and parent you can be:
1. Be honest about your feelings.
Grappling with your own feelings about your child’s gender or sexual identity can be extremely difficult. It is important for any parent to acknowledge their own biases, behaviors, and opinions instead of hiding or ignoring them. Children are extremely perceptive and denying or avoiding discussing your feelings with them may increase feelings of rejection.
2. Educate yourself on LGBTQIA+ issues and experiences.
Showing interest in your child’s life is a great way to strengthen your bond. This is especially true for LGBTQIA+ children, as their interests are often ignored by other heterosexual, cisgendered people. Taking the time to learn about the importance of pronouns, anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation, or even popular queer music or TV shows can go a long way in making your child feel loved and accepted.
3. Show your pride!
As long as your child feels safe and is comfortable with it, consider flying a pride flag outside your home, or putting a magnet on the back of your car. There are also plenty of options for subtle jewelry or accessories so you can support your child and let other LGBTQIA+ people know that you are an ally! It’s even better if you can support LGBTQIA+ owned businesses with your purchases.
4. Join a support group.
Being the parent of a teenager is hard. Being the parent of an LGBTQIA+ teenager can be even harder. Make you sure you also have a robust support system in place for those days when you need extra encouragement. PFLAG, a support group for parents and families of queer people, has chapters all across the country. You can find your local chapter here. You can also use The Hub CT’s directory of resources to find parent support groups throughout Southwestern Connecticut.
5. Apologize if you make a mistake.
As difficult and scary as it might be to admit, no parent is perfect and mistakes will happen. Whether you deadname or misgender your child, or say or do something you wish you could take back, taking accountability for your actions and apologizing not only shows that you care about your child’s feelings and identity, it also shows that you value them as a human being.
At the end of the day, you know your child and your family best. If your child is exhibiting suicidal tendencies or you feel they are in need of help you can reach out to any of these services:
The suicide prevention lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK
The crisis text line: Text “Hello” to 741741
The Trans Lifeline: (877) 565-8860
Call 211 or 1-800-HOPE-135
Resources for Parents or Guardians
There is no perfect way to be an ally or parent to an LGBTQIA+ child, however making any effort to support your child is a great place to start. The Hub CT is proud to offer mental health resources for both you and your child. Check out our LGBTQIA+ resources page. You can also check out these websites:
The Gender Unicorn (Great for kids, youth and families!)
LGBTQIA+ Black & Brown Individuals (and communities of color):