By Mario McKellop
While the issues facing the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community have become increasingly visible in recent years, some critical issues have not received the coverage they deserve. Specifically, the unique mental health challenges faced by the LGBTQ community that are often associated with coming to terms with being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer.
Although mainstream society has become more accepting of LGBTQ individuals, there is still significant stress associated with coming out because of the long-standing prejudices and anxieties surrounding sexuality and gender identity. The sudden realization that you are not “normal” can be extraordinarily stressful. The feelings of alienation, isolation and confusion that accompany questioning one’s gender identity or sexuality can be overwhelming. And when those feelings are combined with the stress of possible discovery and rejection, they can combine to form a perfect storm of anxiety that can push a vulnerable individual to depression, self-harm and even suicide.
For some, coming out can be a positive experience wherein friends, family and romantic partners are accepting of an individual’s sexuality or gender identity. However, even as society has become more accepting of the LGBTQ community as a whole, the positive coming out experience is not a universal one. In fact, all too often, a number of devastating outcomes can follow a person’s coming out, especially among LGBTQ youth.
A 2010 study found that teenagers that identify as having a nontraditional sexuality are bullied twice as much as straight teenagers. And one heartbreaking 2009 study found that 89 percent of transgender youth were faced with verbal harassment because of their non-conforming gender expression. Consequently, it’s not much of a surprise that one 2008 study found that lesbian, gay and bisexual young people are 190 percent more likely to abuse alcohol than their heteronormative counterparts. In the face of all that pain and suffering, it’s no wonder that the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community self-medicate.
Heartbreakingly, the problems facing LGBTQ youth extend beyond the abuse they suffer at the hands of their peers. According to a report compiled by the American Institutes for Research, there are 2.5 million homeless children in the United States. A staggering 40 percent of those children became homeless as a result of being rejected by their families for identifying as being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. As a result of problems like peer hostility and familial rejection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that LGBTQ teens are twice as likely as their heterosexual counterparts to commit suicide.
Because of the scale and scope of the mental health crisis facing the LGBTQ community, it is imperative gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer young people understand that treatment and recovery are available. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which can be accessed online or by dialing the toll-free number (800) 273-8255, is always available to teens in crisis. For LGBTQ youngsters living in Los Angeles County, several resources are available. First, the Suicide Prevention Hotline, which can be reached online and at (877) 727-4747. Also, there’s the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, which can be reached 24/7 at (800) 854-7771. Lastly, the Los Angeles LGBT Center offers an array of social services and housing assistance.
In addition to connecting people to the above-listed resources, there’s something else people who are concerned about their LGBTQ family members can do. Let the LGBTQ people in your life know that they are loved and that no matter how dire their circumstances, help and hope are not out of reach.