LGBT individuals have always faced a variety of challenges when it comes to health, both physical and mental. Let’s take a closer look at some of the significant mental health challenges facing those who identify as LGBT.
Those who identify as LGBT are at higher risk for mental health conditions like anxiety, depression or PTSD, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI). The risk for these illnesses is almost three times what the chance would be for heterosexual individuals.
The risk of suicide is even higher as well — LGBT individuals make more than five times the number of suicide attempts as straight individuals. Suicide is already the second leading cause of death for young people under the age of 24.
LGBT community members are also at higher risk to experiment with drugs and experience substance abuse as a direct result of their mental health.
Why are these risks so much higher than for LGBT individuals than their hetero counterparts?
Mental health professionals have been studying the connection between sexuality and mental health for decades. It first started coming to the forefront in the 1980s during the beginning of the AIDS crisis. A small study in 1989 found a direct correlation between sexuality and elevated suicide rates, but nothing much came of it because of the negative social attitude toward LGBT individuals.
Today, roughly four out of every 10 bisexual individuals are diagnosed with depression. One out of every three gay and lesbian individuals receives the same diagnosis — still more than twice the number of straight individuals. Much of this is due to individual life experiences — those who experience bullying or mistreatments as the result of their sexuality are more likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety disorders.
What Can We Do?
One of the biggest things we can do for the LGBT community is to offer our support. Be sensitive and understanding. Some are comfortable with their sexuality, while others perhaps haven’t come out about their sexual preferences yet. They may still be figuring out their identity and how to express themselves within that identity.
Making mental health services more widely available would be a great asset, as well. More than 14 percent of adults with mental illness are uninsured, making it difficult or even impossible to gain access to the resources they need to treat their illnesses. Even among the insured, more than 55 percent did not receive treatment in the previous year, either because the resources were not available in their area, or their insurance did not provide proper coverage for mental health needs.
Accessibility alone could mean the difference between a successful treatment regimen and a failed one. With the high number of LGBT individuals who are diagnosed with mental illness every year, treatment accessibility is no longer an option — it is a necessity.
While it is up to an individual to seek treatment for their mental illness, it’s up to the rest of us to ensure we can provide the support they need — and to make mental healthcare more accessible to those who need it the most.