LGBT-Specific Mental Health Risk Factors #MMHAM
Written by: Zoë King
This July, we are focusing our content on ‘Minority Identities and Mental Health’, a blog series honoring #MMHAM that discusses the mental health risks, issues, and resources specifically affecting minority populations and identities.
Being LGBTQ can be difficult in ways some people may not expect. Many assume that ever since same-sex marriage has been legalized in the United States, LGBTQ people are no longer a struggling minority population, but the opposite could not be more true. LGBTQ people face difficulty on all fronts of life, including homelessness, poverty, drug use, and employment, culminating in a rate of mental illness over twice that of heterosexuals. Understanding the issues that LGBTQ people face can help loved ones prevent situations that could induce the development of a mental illness, and help LGBTQ people themselves understand and prepare for any future mental health issues they may face.
The most obvious issues that affect the LGBTQ community are those directly related to the stigma that they face. One issue in particular is the fear of being outed to friends and family about one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This lingering anxiety held in the minds of many LGBTQ people can contribute to existing issues with stress/anxiety disorders. Another problem LGBTQ individuals can face that degrades mental health is the lack of support from one’s theoretical inner circle. Many LGBTQ people face discrimination from family and friends who may have supported them through mental health struggles if they had been straight/cisgender. Without support from those you trust, it can be difficult to overcome struggles alone. Finally, just being a minority in society can cause mental health issues. The minority stress theory presents the idea that the various influences society has on minority groups, including those in the LGBTQ community, can increase mental health issues.
The second layer of obstacles to good mental health that LGBTQ individuals face are those that come as a result of the stigma they face. One such issue is that of housing. Gay men and lesbians are two times more likely to have been homeless than heterosexuals, and transgender people are even more likely to be homeless than other sexual minorities. Additionally, even when they do have homes, LGBTQ people have significantly higher costs-of-living than their straight/cisgender counterparts. Outside of the home and into the workplace, 20% of LGBTQ have reported being treated unfairly in the workplace on the basis of their LGBTQ status, and around 15% have reported being harassed. Despite the troubles they face, gay men and lesbians earn 10% less than their straight counterparts on average, and around 27% of LGBTQ reported being fired, not being promoted, or not being hired due to being LGBTQ. These troubles in the workplace can easily cause stress and increased risk for mental illness at home.
The final group of risk factors exists within LGBTQ individuals and relationships themselves. These can be a result of the above factors or stem from different issues entirely. One such issue is the higher rate of domestic violence found in the LGBTQ community. Over half of transgender individuals have been victims of domestic violence, and lesbians are around 8% more likely to be abused by an intimate partner than heterosexuals. This can easily lead to a decline in one’s mental health. Another factor that can harm LGBTQ mental health is the ripple effect of poor mental health. LGBTQ people have higher rates of suicide than straight/cisgender people. LGB youth are 28% more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual peers, and transgender adults are nine times more likely to attempt suicide than cisgender individuals. These rates are in themselves bad, but they also spread poor mental health throughout the community. In local communities that have recently experienced a suicide, thoughts of suicide from other members of the community nearly doubles. While the more internal issues of the LGBTQ community can be particularly tricky to address, they can have just as severe of an impact on mental health as any of the other types of risks.
Being LGBTQ can put people at risk for mental illness in many different ways that wouldn’t otherwise affect straight/cisgender people. While this blog post includes many of the risk factors, it is not all-encompassing of the variety of risks associated with mental health conditions. While this subject can be difficult to talk about, it is important and necessary to address these issues for the sake of remedying them and educating others. Stay tuned for the next post in this series, where we describe ways to combat these risks!