Updated: Sep 23, 2022
Livestrong author Mel Van De Graaff is a trans man covering health and wellness since 2017. In this Q&A, Mel and Sweeney discuss myths and stigmas surrounding mental health and access to support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Q: As part of the community, I have seen firsthand that mental health issues are more common inside the LGBTQ+ community. Not just depression and anxiety but things like autism and ADHD as well. What have you seen in your practice that might account for this?
A: What I can share is that studies show higher rates of mental health conditions in adults and children who identify has LGBTQ+ when they are in a community or environment that is not supportive or openly discriminatory against them, when preferred pronouns and chosen names are not used, and when they are experiencing isolation and social withdrawal. With youth, according to a national survey completed by the Trevor Project 2021, 72% of LGBTQ+ youth reported symptoms of GAD, and 62% of LGBTQ+ youth reports symptoms of major depressive disorder. Within my practice, I have not seen a correlation between a neurodivergent brain and those who identify as LGBTQ+. Though, what I have seen, is a greater disparity of resources that do not provide gender-affirming care and that those that identify as LGBTQ+ have a greater amount of socioeconomic and cultural conditions that impact mental health. Additionally, those who identify as LGBTQ+ can become more prone to developing a mental health conditions due to stigma and discrimination in different environments.
Q: I have seen many people assume that being LGBTQ+ is a mental illness. Why do people outside of the community believe this?
A: I find that when people don't understand a community, they make assumptions based off their beliefs and fears rather than taking this as an opportunity to educate themselves. It is convenient to assume that identifying as LGBTQ+ equates mental illness because there is a greater presence of mental health conditions within the community. Historically, diagnostic standards and unethical methods of therapy implicated identifying as LGBTQ+ as a mental illness. As professions evolved and adapted, that has been proved time and time again to be far from the truth. Identifying as LGBTQ+ is not a mental illness or condition, but an integral aspect of who they are.
Q: What are some myths about mental health in the LGBTQ+ community?
A: The number one myth that research shows and that my practice sees, is that mental health concerns in the LGBTQ+ community are not considered to be as significant of a crisis. There is a dire need for equitable access to gender-affirming care provided by comprehensive and competent clinicians. Youth suicide rates are only escalating and people within the LGBTQ+ youth and adult communities are dying. Nearly half of those surveyed by The Trevor Project for the National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2021 reported that wanted to engage in counseling from a professional but did not receive it. They also found that 42% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide this past year, with even higher numbers for transgender and nonbinary youth.
Q: How can those in the community find help if they’re unable to go to therapy?
A: Provide a safe, affirming space for them to engage in; whether it be a home environment, hobby, community event, support group, or connection with those who identify as LGBTQ+. According to the above-named survey, rates of suicide fell dramatically when they had a safe, affirming space to be a part of. Giving people the space to be seen and unapologetic about embracing themselves is healing and restorative and can be so invaluable to their support system development and identity exploration.