Did you know that suicide rates are up to 14 times higher among LGB high school and college students than their heterosexual counterparts? Additionally, each year, one in 167 Canadians attempt suicide, but in comparison, the rate for people who identify as transgender is one in nine.
While there are many factors that contribute, one of the chief causes of poor mental health in LGBTQ people is the way they are treated and oppressed by our society.
Today is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. To mark the occasion, I wanted to discuss the impact of gender discrimination, sexual discrimination and bullying on the mental health of people in the LGBTQ community.
I identify as straight and cis-gendered, so I can’t speak from my own personal perspective. That’s why I’ve interviewed a few people to get their own personal thoughts on homophobia or transphobia and mental health. I’ve also curated a few tweets that show this discussion is alive online and something that needs more attention. I don’t mean to say that these voices represent everyone who is gay or trans. It’s just a small sample to start a conversation on mental health.
Research shows that people in the LGBTQ community experience increased levels of anxiety and depression. And their experiences with the healthcare system only further exacerbate their mental health issues, due to the systemic discrimination that occurs when they try to seek help.
It’s so important to realize that the way we look at mental health needs to be intersectional. People experience mental health differently according to their own circumstances. When we fight for improved mental health care, we need to fight for the end of societal practices and structures that persecute and discriminate those with less power, including people in the LGBTQ community. These practices include homophobia, transphobia and biphobia, but also other problematic beliefs such as racism, ableism and sexism.
From a quick Twitter search, it is clear that other people agree.
I wanted to chat with people who have direct experience, either professional or personal, with homophobia and mental health, or transphobia and mental health. I recently followed Sly Sarkisova on Twitter, whose Twitter bio reads: Consultation| Clinical Supervision| Psychotherapy for Mental Health, Addiction, Trauma and LGBTTQ2SI communities.
Here’s what Sly had to say on the topic of sexual and gender discrimination.
“In my psychotherapy practice, I’ve worked with many fellow queer and trans folks and the overall theme that comes up is family acceptance vs. rejection and social isolation. LGBTQ2S folks are at high risk for aggravated mental health concerns such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression, due to the lack of acceptance faced societally and in families of origin. Connection, acceptance, and support are the biggest predictors of mental health and emotional welfare and those core supports are often threatened or removed for queer and trans folks.”
Just as Sly was saying, I wanted to showcase a tweet on the topic of the consequences from lack of acceptance in families of origin.
We also cannot forget the experience of trans folk in the conversation I hope we are starting today about mental health. This tweet says it all.
I also spoke to Jodi Gray from Vancouver, BC who goes by @MyColoredToes on Twitter. Jodi is a transgender woman living with depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder. Jodi discussed experienced with discrimination and transphobia.
“I am fortunate to live in a city that is more LGBT friendly than most. I still have experienced discrimination, though. The discrimination I have experienced in the healthcare system seems to be based on a lack of education rather than hate or hostility. I think the distinction is important when trying to address discrimination, but unfortunately, the effect on individuals trying to get help for a mental illness is no different. It seems to me, as a transgender woman, that instead of treating me as an individual, mental health professionals can only focus on my gender. Because my mental illness is not related to my gender, I do not feel I am getting the treatment I need.”
Here is yet another tweet that emphasizes the importance of considering the impact of discrimination and bullying on mental health.
In the fall of 2016, I attended an event organized by Michelle from the This Is Who I Am Project. It was a panel discussion on the topic of mental health in the LGBTQ community. (Click here to read about what I learned there and here to read a more in-depth interview with Michelle.) Here are Michelle’s thoughts on homophobia and mental health from a personal perspective.
“What many heterosexual people don’t realize is that every time I meet someone new, it is like a whole new “coming out” conversation I need to have with them. Depending on the environment, the kind of people I interact with, I am cognizant of how their reaction may be towards me and careful in how safe it is for me to identify my sexual orientation. I am fortunate that I have not been in a situation where I was bullied or ridiculed directly. But for the longest time, I had internalized homophobia and this had serious impacts on my mental health -feelings of not good enough, shame, depression, and over-achievement as a bid for acceptance. My stand is for LGBTQ+ individuals is to have the freedom to be who they want to be. Love is love and This Is Who I Am.”
There is so much stigma around mental health in the LGBTQ community, especially because a person’s gender or sexual identity is often wrongly seen as a mental health issue itself. The image below says what I want to say succinctly and powerfully. “Homophobia is what causes mental health problems. Being gay doesn’t.”
To end off, I wanted to share an awesome podcast I recently discovered about mental illness called The Hurricane Pod, by Sophia Ruth. In this powerful episode that I am embedding below, she interviews Ellen Jones, an LGBTQ activist. (Who has a video on mental health in the LGBTQ community here.) They discuss topics such as internalized homophobia, the experience of severe bullying and receiving death threats, societal causes of mental health issues, self-harm and more.