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Beyond the Rainbow Part 1: A Closer Look at LGBTQIA+ Mental Health Concerns

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

People with rainbow flags at event

At a Glance: What you need to know

  • Over 39% of people from the LGBTQIA+ community report having a mental illness in the past year

  • Fewer than 40% of LGBTQIA+ youth found their home to be LGBTQ-affirming

  • Discrimination has been associated with high rates of psychiatric disorders, substance use, and suicide.

  • You can help! Read below to learn how to support LGBTQIA+ mental health

Studies and surveys have consistently shown that LGBTQIA+ individuals face unique struggles and disparities associated with mental health. The mental health challenges faced by the queer community are a significant concern. From increased rates of mental health issues to higher risks of suicide and substance use disorders, it is critical that we all understand the challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ people so that we may begin to address them collectively.

Increased Risk of Mental Health Conditions

LGBTQIA+ individuals are more susceptible to mental health conditions compared to their heterosexual or cisgender peers. Though only 4.5% of the U.S. population report being queer, over 39% of people from the LGBTQIA+ community report having a mental illness in the past year. The bisexual and transgender communities have the highest rates of mental health concerns within the LGBTQIA+ population, and queer youth struggle the most with their mental health than any other age. 67% of LGBTQIA+ young people reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety in the past year, and nearly 54% reported experiencing symptoms of depression.

So where does this increased risk come from? There are several factors associated with the higher rates of mental health issues reported by the queer community including:

  • Social rejection

  • Discrimination

  • Chronic stress associated with being marginalized

  • Lack of accessible healthcare

  • Social and self-stigma

All of these factors play a significant role in contributing to the higher rates of mental health struggles. Addressing the increased risk of mental health issues in queer communities thus requires a multi-faceted approach. Understanding all aspects of why this risk occurs can help ensure the mental well-being of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It is important to acknowledge that communities of color within the LGBTQIA+ community face compounded challenges and are at a higher risk of experiencing mental health conditions and substance use disorders when compared to their white counterparts.

To mitigate these disparities and promote mental well-being, it is crucial to address the unique needs of LGBTQIA+ individuals from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds through targeted support, culturally competent care, and inclusive policies.

Being LGBTQIA+ does not make you mentally ill; it is the additional and unique challenges and stressors faced that create this risk. We are all capable of decreasing these risk factors by increasing protective factors for LGBTQIA+ people such as:

  • Creating inclusive and affirming environments

  • Building and promoting social support networks

  • Providing accessible mental and physical healthcare

  • Increasing education and awareness

  • Engaging in advocacy and fighting for queer legal protections and policies

  • Cultivating self-acceptance and resiliency for LGBTQIA+ individuals

  • Establishing peer support and mentorship

Social Rejection and Discrimination

Rejection from family, friends, religious communities, and workplaces due to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity can lead to overwhelming feelings of isolation and rejection. This, in turn, can lead to:

  • Increased feelings of abandonment

  • Lack of strong support systems

  • Emotional distress

  • Feeling helpless and lost when accessing mental health treatment

Family rejection is specifically detrimental for LGBTQIA+ youth, many of whom may find themselves without any other forms of support for their mental health without their family’s understanding and care.

This isn’t a small problem either. Fewer than 40% of LGBTQIA+ youth found their home to be LGBTQ-affirming, as reported by the 2023 Trevor Project survey.

Isolation and loneliness are significant risk factors for disorders like depression or anxiety. When LGBTQIA+ people cannot find acceptance, this takes a toll on mental health, leading to increased alienation from others overall. For LGBTQIA+ individuals, this can even create feelings of distorted identity. The need to hide one’s authentic self and conceal one’s identity can contribute to increased behaviors such as masking. This type of behavior can be exhausting and draining. It can lead to increased burnout in the workplace or at school and, frustratingly enough, only adds to the disconnection that LGBTQIA+ people face from society at large.

Discrimination also has a significant impact on the mental health of LGBTQIA+ individuals. It has been associated with high rates of psychiatric disorders, substance use, and suicide. LGBTQIA+ individuals, especially youth, may face bullying, harassment, and even violence due to their identity. A majority of queer youth reported being verbally harassed at school because people thought they were LGBTQ+. These experiences can be ongoing and traumatic and can impact their mental well-being, from increased and early substance use to PTSD.

Harmful and ostracizing legislation and policies are also huge barriers that queer folks face in finding social acceptance

Anti-queer legislation perpetuates discrimination and marginalization, exacerbating the mental health challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community and creating a hostile environment that can lead to increased rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide among queer individuals. These discriminatory laws contribute to a sense of invalidation and societal rejection, amplifying the stigma and shame experienced by LGBTQ+ individuals, ultimately compromising their overall well-being. The cumulative impact of anti-queer legislation on mental health highlights the urgent need for inclusive policies and support systems that affirm and protect the rights and dignity of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Discrimination can be encountered in most aspects of life for LGBTQIA+ people, including employment, education, healthcare, housing, and relationships. It can be difficult to address ongoing mental health concerns when material needs like proper housing or employment can’t be met due to discriminatory practices that block queer individuals from finding steady footing. Struggling to access fair and equitable healthcare and treatment is another significant hurdle facing many LGBTQIA+ people, making it much harder to care for mental health.

4 Ways You Can Support LGBTQIA+Mental Health

There are a number of ways to address the mental health concerns of the LGBTQIA+community:

  1. Create Safe and Inclusive Spaces: Promote acceptance, respect, and inclusivity within families, schools, workplaces, and communities. Safe environments foster positive mental health outcomes.

  2. Education and Awareness: Increase awareness about LGBTQIA+ mental health concerns, debunk stereotypes, and promote understanding. Education plays a vital role in reducing stigma and discrimination.

  3. Accessible Mental Healthcare: Ensure that LGBTQIA+-friendly mental healthcare services are available and accessible. Culturally competent providers who understand the unique challenges faced by this community can provide effective support.

  4. Supportive Networks: Foster support systems by connecting individuals with LGBTQIA+ support groups, community centers, or online resources. It is also important to increase the visibility of supportive mentors, Allies and Accomplices in different spaces, so that they are easily identified. Building a network of accepting friends, family, and allies is crucial for mental well-being.

LGBTQ topics of interest

Request a Training from The Hub: LGBTQIA+ & Allyship An introduction of LGBTQIA+ education and how to become an ally to the community.

The mental health concerns within the LGBTQIA+ population require all of our attention and action. By understanding the unique challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals, promoting acceptance, and providing access to mental healthcare and support, we can create a society that values and supports the mental well-being of all its members. Together, we can foster a more inclusive and mentally healthy world for the queer community.

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