No reasonable person would argue that trauma leaves no scars. It’s widely accepted not just in psychological circles but in society as a whole that any incident of trauma, or being pressed beyond the body’s physical, mental or emotional ability to cope, creates issues that need to be addressed in order to avoid further health issues down the road.
But what happens when an entire community of individuals are traumatized? Studies among marginalized groups indicate that exposure to long term trauma leads to various adverse health outcomes. Indeed, trauma plays a major role in many physical and psychological diseases.
One group of individuals in our society that has faced far more institutionalized trauma than their straight counterparts can even imagine is the LGBTQ community. This community has had to battle for basic rights many take for granted. Is it any wonder, then, that many members of this community suffer from physical and mental disease at a higher rate than their heterosexual peers?
Not surprisingly, members of the LGBTQ community often suffer from higher rates of severe psychological distress than their heterosexual peers do. Nearly 26% of gay men indicate that they suffer from psychological distress as compared to only 16% of heterosexual men. Bisexual men suffer even more, with more than 40% reporting having suffered from psychological distress. Lesbian and bisexual women also report higher rates of psychological distress than their straight peers.
This increase in psychological distress is easily understandable if we look at typical cases of PTSD among soldiers and abused individuals. Just as members of those groups experience trauma at a higher rate than the general population, members of the LGBTQ community have suffered institutionalized abuse in the form of antiquated social mores and blatant discrimination. Just as the citizens of a war-torn state suffer psychological trauma, so have the members of our LGBTQ community here and elsewhere where persecution and bias exists.
Suicidal Ideation and Suicide
The risk of depression, anxiety and suicide remain elevated especially for LGBTQ youth in our society. Indeed, LGBTQ youth run a 30% higher risk of suicide than do their heterosexual peers. When one stops to consider how isolated LGBTQ youth often feel from their peers, the additional stress becomes understandable. In addition, often LGBTQ youth encounter disapproval or even outright ostracism from their family when they gather the courage to come out, a stressor their hetero peers do not face.
In addition, the risk of depression and suicidal ideation runs high among the older LGBTQ population as well. Often, LGBTQ couples lack much of the financial and familial support hetero couples enjoy when their partner passes away. This can lead to extreme social isolation, and even financial stress, as some of the older generation still fails to be protected by the community property rules that cover most heterosexual married couples.
Members of the LGBTQ community also face increased risks of arthritis and other pain disorders than do their heterosexual peers. As western medicine begins to accept the mind-body connection espoused by many eastern medicinal practice, the causes of this become more clear. Often, internalized psychological pain manifests itself in very real physical pain disorders.
One recent study by the CDC confirmed that lesbian women report low back pain at a rate of 53%, 17% higher than their heterosexual peers. In addition, lesbian women report higher levels of difficulty sleeping and concentrating. Finally, as psychological stress plays a large role in autoimmune disorders, certain types of arthritis which are related to the immune system such as rheumatoid arthritis occur more frequently among lesbian women.
Chronic Health Conditions
In addition to pain conditions, members of the LGBTQ community suffer from more chronic health conditions overall than their heterosexual peers. The reasons for this are multifaceted. In addition to the psychological trauma often endured in a society which fails to fully endorse diversity, LGBTQ individuals often face discrimination at the doctor’s often as well. This discrimination need not be overt; often, in fact, it boils down to an LGBTQ individual feeling uncomfortable relating their concerns, leading to difficulty in addressing proper care.
In addition, members of the LGBTQ community evidence a greater number of addictive behaviors such as drinking and smoking than do their heterosexual peers. While much of this can be attributed to the stress of being a member of a minority group, it nevertheless leads to more adverse health outcomes.
While members of the LGBTQ community do have a higher rate of certain health risks, it is important to note that this is an observation, not a prediction. With adequate education as well as a more accepting culture, we can make it easier for all individuals to get the health resources and outcomes that they need.