Creating space to treat the LGBTQ community’s health and wellness needs is pivotal to eliminating gaps in the entire public health infrastructure. In order to create better health outcomes for the entire LGBTQ community, we must be inclusive. Culturally competent medical care that is welcoming and safe for LGBTQ people needs to be a higher priority.
There are many factors that fundamentally increase the instance of mental health issues for LGBTQ people including socioeconomic status, age, and racial background. Knowing the challenges and obstacles that LGBTQ individuals face is the first step on a path toward accessibility and visibility.
Depression and the LGBTQ Community
Depression can take on many forms and appear at increased rates in marginalized communities. People in the LGBTQ community are three times more likely to face a mental health condition. These conditions include major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and thoughts of suicide. According to National Alliance on Mental Illness, individuals in the LGBTQ community are at an increased risk of suicidal thoughts leading to suicide. LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide and between 38-65% of transgender individuals experience suicidal thoughts.
There are a number of factors that create this increased likelihood of suicide and depression including discrimination, stigma, shame, and fear. LGBTQ individuals are often pushed to hide their identities and their depression due to familial and societal pressures. These circumstances can often deter LGBTQ individuals from seeking mental health treatment. According to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, 16% of LGBTQ people reported being physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation, and 11% were attacked because of their gender expression. For LGBTQ youth, bullying and feeling unsafe at school can cause a significant impact on a child’s ability to perform at school. Bullying and shame can also impact their mental health.
LGBTQ individuals are also at an increased risk of substance abuse. The LGBTQ community reports higher usage of drugs and alcohol than cisgendered heterosexual individuals. NAMI also reports an estimated 20-30% of LGBTQ people abuse substances, compared to about 9% of the general population. This includes 25% of LGBTQ people abusing alcohol, compared to 5-10% of the general population.
There are incessant challenges when searching for a healthcare provider as an LGBTQ person. Historically, many psychiatrists considered homosexuality to be a mental illness. This falsehood led to traumatic procedures like forced hospitalization and aversion therapy against the will of many gay and lesbian people. Incredible changes and medical strides have been made since the 1950’s however finding a provider that is empathetic and accepting to all experiences is still very crucial. Individuals still face discrimination in the healthcare system due to provider bias, lack of training, and lack of understanding. Many providers are without the tools to serve the unique needs of the LGBTQ community and in return provide improper care. It is not uncommon for providers to focus more on an individual’s gender and sexual orientation than on their depression.
Due to mistrust and dual stigma, the path to finding a health provider may leave individuals hesitant in their journey towards receiving proper treatment. However, it is extremely important to take this step for a better quality of life. Below are resources for finding an LGBTQ-friendly provider and becoming an ally for the LGBTQ community:
- Speak with friends and local LGBTQ centers about resources that exist
- Ask your current or prospective provider if they have any LGBTQ patients
- Review the Healthcare Quality Index – an annual survey that promotes and encourages inclusive care for LGBTQ people in the United States.
- Visit The Trevor Project – a national organization providing support for LGBTQ youth
- Search the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association’s Provider Directory to look through a list of inclusive medical providers.
In addition to finding resources for LGBTQ specific issues, individuals will want to decide what type of treatment is right for them. There are various methods and combined treatments for dealing with depression that only a licensed healthcare provider can help determine. Treatment will vary for every person, depending on their needs and circumstances. Common types of treatment include Talk Therapy, Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. In addition to these methods, many people choose to take medications such as SSRIs to help alleviate symptoms.
There are also other options that can help with the symptoms of depression including diet and exercise. Exercising has been proven to temporarily lift mood and prevent depression sufferers from socially isolating themselves. Individuals looking to improve their mental health through diet and exercise should consult their healthcare provider before making any drastic changes.
LGBTQ people deserve accessible and thoughtful healthcare. Especially as it relates to their mental health. Resources exist for LGBTQ people to treat their depression, choose the right healthcare provider, and to find a community of people that are trustworthy. Online communities exist for LGBTQ communities to find these common threads relating to their depression.
Organizations like Mazzoni Center, PFLAG and The Ali Forney Center work to create better outcomes for at-risk individuals in the LGBTQ community through fundraising, awareness, and programming. Many community organizations also provide education and training opportunities to help individuals and healthcare professionals be better allies to the LGBTQ community. Finding a safe-space or community organization to receive support and treatment is a viable option for a better outcome.
A number of resources for speaking to a healthcare professional in confidence on the phone or online exist as well. The It Gets Better campaign and The Trevor Project both provide a national, 24-hr, toll-free confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth. The Trevor Project also provides an online chat and confidential text messaging service. There is more than one way to seek help and receive support. For more information and resources on the LGBTQ community and depression, visit the resources below.