20th February 2019, Gae Sawitri

10 Facts About LGBT+ Mental Health That Everyone Should Know

Minority stress theory, first posited in 1995, suggests that sexual minorities “experience distinct, chronic stressors related to their stigmatised identities, including victimisation, prejudice and discrimination. These unique experiences, in addition to everyday or universal stressors, disproportionately compromise the mental health and well-being of LGBT people.”

If we accept this theory (and we at R12 most certainly do), we should expect members of the LGBT+ community to experience serious and unique mental health challenges distinct from members of the general population. Although research indicates this is the case, society at large is generally unaware of how severe and widespread these problems are.

In an attempt to raise awareness, here are 10 statistics about mental health in our community that everyone ought to know:

1. A 2010 study found that one-third of LGBT+ youth met the criteria for a mental health disorder.

This study of 246 LGBT+ youth found that among respondents, there were elevated instances of conduct disorders, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide attempts. All the data we currently have suggests that LGBT+ youth are at severe risk of developing mental health problems during adolescence, and that these will follow them into adulthood.

2. LGBT+ youth contemplate suicide at three times the rate of their peers, and attempt it five times more often.

That is, if they survive into adulthood. Adolescence is a difficult time for everyone, and everyone is at far greater risk of suicidality during these years, but the data shows that these are especially trying and dangerous times for members of our community.

3. Each instance of LGBT+ victimization increase the likelihood of self-harmby 2.5 times.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that incidents of physical or verbal abuse and harassment greatly increased the odds that an LGBT+ adolescent would engage in self-injurious behaviour. At least in relation to this statistic we have an obvious solution: stamp out LGBT+ bullying, and end the social stigmas that are killing young people every single day.

4. Suicide rates among trans and gender non-conforming people are as high as 46 percent.

While there is still a paucity of data on the mental health of the trans community, almost all the information we have indicates that they’re at an even greater risk for trauma, depression, suicide and a host of other mental health challenges. Funding for treatment, and research into the challenges faced by these individuals, would certainly save lives.

5. LGBT+-identified people are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.

While the causes for this are certainly varied and complex, there’s no doubt that societal perceptions, pressures and stigmas are huge contributors to this epidemic. As psychologist Brad Brenner has noted, a world “full of negative messages about what it means to be attracted to people of the same sex or gender nonconforming, many people come to view themselves as deeply flawed, unlovable, unworthy, and hopeless.”

6. LGBT+ people are twice as likely to experience violence in their youth.

While we’re not entirely sure why this is the case, we can be fairly certain that social prejudices, hate crimes, family rejection and bullying are some of the root causes of this violence. As the The Harvard Advocate reported, along with people of colour, LGBT+ individuals are the victims of the majority of hate crimes. The study’s author concluded: “Profound sexual orientation disparities exist in risk of PTSD and in violence exposure, beginning in childhood. Our findings suggest there is an urgent need for public health interventions aimed at preventing violence against individuals with minority sexual orientations and providing follow-up care to cope with the sequelae of violent victimization.”

7. This violence has led to double the risk of PTSD for LGBT+ people.

While trauma is at the root of many mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety, it also has severe effects on the overall health of individuals. Studies have shown correlations between trauma and heart disease, liver disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, sexually transmitted infections and lower life expectancy. Trauma and PTSD are not just mental health issues, they have incredibly detrimental and even life-threatening impacts on the people who experience them.

8. LGBT+ people suffer higher stress levels.

An Australian study found that on average, LGBT+ people have Kessler test scores indicating “moderate psychological distress,” while 70 percent of the general population has low levels of distress. Given everything we’ve learned so far, this is a statistic that should surprise no one.

9. Just about every form of substance abuse occurs at a higher rate in the LBGT+ community.

Given that our community is at significantly greater risk of experiencing trauma, depression, anxiety and a desire for self-harm, is it any wonder that this is the case? The American Center for Disease Control (CDC) notes that LGBT+ people are far more likely to use painkillers, binge drink and consume illegal drugs than their heterosexual counterparts, beginning in adolescence and continuing into adulthood.

10. It has only been about 40 years since homosexuality was classified as a mental illness.

Homosexuality wasn’t removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until 1987. While this is common knowledge for many in our community, it’s important to pause and contemplate its effects. Many LGBT+ people still feel pressure to fight against the perception that belonging to a sexual minority is a symptom of mental illness. Consequently, they wish to avoid shining a light on the issues that far too many in our community are grappling with. It is of vital importance that we drag the issue of mental health into the spotlight, and raise awareness of the many ways that society traumatises members of our community. The fact that so many LGBT+ people have suffered through and triumphed over these afflictions is not a sign of fragility, but strength.

Proudly Moving Forward

We should all endeavour to learn more about the unique mental health challenges that LGBT+ people are still facing, even now in 2018. While we should all be working to create a society that doesn’t reject, traumatise and abuse members of sexual minorities in the future, in the present, we should also focus on healing the wounds already suffered.

As the National Alliance on Mental Illness notes, “Though more therapists and psychiatrists today have positive attitudes toward the LGBT+ community, people still face unequal care due to a lack of training and/or understanding. Health care providers still do not always have up-to-date knowledge of the unique needs of the LGBT+ community or training on LGBT mental health issues. Providers who lack knowledge and experience working with members of the LGBT+ community may focus more on a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity than a person’s mental health condition.” 

We at R12 are deeply committed to offering care that meets the unique needs of the community we serve. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and finding acceptance in a discriminating world, R12 provides a safe space to work through your struggles alongside peers with shared experiences. Make contact with us today to learn more about how we can help.

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