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Why Does the LGBTQIA+ Community Suffer from Poor Mental Health at Higher Rates?

Everyone has a sexual orientation and gender identity, but people who identify as part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA+) community are at higher mental health risk compared to others. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), "LGB adults are more than twice as likely as heterosexual adults to experience a mental health condition. Transgender individuals are nearly four times as likely as cisgender individuals to experience a mental health condition". Many factors aside, this is because many people identifying as LGBTQIA+ face discrimination, family rejection, harassment, and fear of violence.

"Like with any identity, feeling different—or worse, unaccepted as you are—is a significant risk factor for mental health struggles," says Anna Docherty, PhD, LP, assistant professor of psychiatry at Huntsman Mental Health Institute. "The truth is, most of us experience some significant anxiety or depression in our lifetimes, and we often manage this with social support. Without adequate social support and acceptance, mental health is quite difficult to maintain. Increasing dialogue about LGBTQIA+ experiences and how individuals are overcoming struggles can help normalize and validate what individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ are managing. Importantly, this can also lead to community education, acceptance, social support, peer-mentoring, empowerment, and pride."

The following statistics from Mental Health America demonstrate the concerning mental health challenges facing the LGBTQIA+ community:

  • LGBTQIA+ teens are six times more likely to experience symptoms of depression than non-LGBTQIA+ identifying teens.
  • LGBTQIA+ youth are more than twice as likely to feel suicidal and more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth.
  • 48% of transgender adults report that they have considered suicide in the last year, compared to 4% of the overall U.S. population.
"Like with any identity, feeling different—or worse, unaccepted as you are—is a significant risk factor for mental health struggles."
Anna Docherty, PhD, LP

Showing Support for Your LGBTQIA+ Community

Younger generations identifying as LGBTQIA+ are increasingly adept at sharing their personal stories and experiences. "However, so many individuals still experience alienation, isolation, and stigma," Docherty says. "Like anyone, individuals who experience alienation, isolation, or stigma can be at risk for mental health concerns."

So how do people show support for someone who is struggling? When connecting with those who identify as LGBTQIA+, it is important to use non-stigmatizing language when speaking and writing, such as:

  • Instead of 'disorder' or 'illness,' use the terms 'condition' or 'concern.' Docherty says she sometimes refers to 'struggles.' 
  • Instead of 'psychiatric', use 'mental health.'
  • Instead of 'LGBTQIA+ youth,' say 'younger individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+.'
  • Instead of the term 'schizophrenic,' say, 'person managing schizophrenia' (or anxiety, or OCD, or any other struggle).

How to Be an LGBTQIA+ Ally

Positive human connection is critical when it comes to boosting your mood. Surrounding yourself with people who love you, believe in you, cheer for you, hear you, and listen to you.

  • Become an active ally. Make it a regular practice to show up for your friends, neighbors, and family and be their support system! Read about LGBTQIA+ experiences online, attend a Pride event, or wear Pride gear.
  • Always ask about someone's preferred pronouns, and use them. At work, take the first step by putting your pronouns in your email signature and social media bios.
  • For trans-identifying individuals, do not ask their birth name or about their transition. Respect their privacy and personal preferences.
  • Show your acceptance through words. Listening is one thing—responding with positive words and affirmations is another. Be aware of the language you are using.
  • Take a moment to share your appreciation for someone in your life who identifies as LGBTQIA+.

As we celebrate Pride month in June, many come together to show their support for the LGBTQIA+ community. But it's important to be an ally every day.

How to Get the Support You Need

"In every U.S. state, there are unique social and cultural factors that influence these experiences of alienation, isolation, and stigma," Docherty says. The LGBTQIA+ community faces challenges every day, but lack of social connection and support can make these experiences even more challenging. Docherty and her colleagues at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute run focus groups in Utah to better understand the experience of living LGBTQIA+—and better understand how to serve this community.

In Utah, our community now benefits from outstanding mental health research in the areas of depression and suicide, as well as from LGBTQIA+ affirmative health care initiatives like the Utah LGBTQ+ Affirmative Therapists Guild and the University of Utah TransHealth Program. The program websites offer several resources for patients, families, and providers. Other resources:

Our community also benefits from new philanthropic efforts to reduce mental health stigma and increase local resources for support of youth. Individual efforts are needed to increase awareness of LGBTQIA+ experiences in our community, too.