Pride month is more than a time for celebration, it is also a continued effort to memorialize the LGBTQ2+ victims of hate crimes; to honor the milestones of Pride throughout history, and to acknowledge that the struggles faced by many LGBTQ2+ members are still present. With all that Pride encompasses, celebrating and supporting this community can start with consideration of a few facts about the lived experiences among this population and how they influence mental health. As this month comes to a close, it doesn't mean our work is done to support the LGBTQ2+ community. Here's what we all need to know about LGBTQ2+ mental health:
What is minority stress?
“Minority Stress” is a type of stress that affects minority groups, including sexual and gender minorities, and which contributes to physical and mental health inequalities for those who suffer from it. It accumulates over time from repeated exposures of stigmatization and discrimination and is directly linked to elevated suicide risk. In addition to stigma and discrimination, members of the LBGTQ2+ community who are subjected to violence and unacceptance from peers, family, employers and coworkers experience negative impacts on their mental health. Across Canada, evidence of this impact is represented in higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidality, and substance use among the LGBTQ2+ community when compared to that of the larger population, and double the risk of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
What mental health warning signs should we be aware of?
Warning signs of mental distress, illness, or suicidality include loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, substance-use, using statements of hopelessness and disconnecting with friends and family. Getting connected with a doctor and mental health professionals who are known to provide positive spaces for LGBTQ2+ people can be an important step toward mental wellness for you or someone you love. Links to LGBTQ2+ positive health services in Ontario can be found at settlement.org and through a service provider directory at www.rainbowhealthontario.ca.
What can the community do to support LGBTQ2+ members?
With these risks to mental wellbeing, familial and peer acceptance have an increased level of importance for LGBTQ2+ members. Mental health protective factors specifically for the LBGTQ2+ community appear to be under-studied thus far, but some evidence has shown that strong relationships with family and friends can reduce suicidal ideation. Self-awareness and acceptance are also important factors for mental wellness; however, this can be difficult to achieve for individuals who do not experience acceptance from family, friends, or other members of society. For example, a study conducted at the Université de Montreal in 2013 found that those who are “out” to others (those who have disclosed their LGBTQ2+ identity to others) have lower stress hormone levels, and fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression than those who have not “come out,” except when there are experiences of societal intolerance.
Intolerance is often expressed through micro-aggressions, either intentionally or unintentionally, such as through misgendering a person, which leaves victims with increased feelings of isolation and anxiety Being able to safely identify oneself and be addressed accordingly is a significant part of self-acceptance and feeling accepted by others. LGBTQ2+ is an ever-evolving acronym that includes Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender*, Queer, Questioning, 2/Two-Spirit, Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual, Agender, Gender Queer, Bigender, Gender Variant and Pangender and each term represents a person's unique identity expression. Further, the correct use of an individual’s preferred pronouns (i.e., She/her, He/him, They/their/them) allows continued affirmation of one’s own identity and challenges discrimination.
For LGBTQ2+ individuals and allies alike, personal and interpersonal actions can be taken to work against these adversities and increase protective factors for the mental health of the LGBTQ2+ community. Things like making efforts to stay connected to friends and family, joining gay-straight alliances (for those who are in school), or getting connected with peers through Pflag, a Canadian organization that offers “local, practical, and emotional peer-to-peer family support for individuals and their loved ones challenged by gender/sexual identity” can contribute to increased support systems and decrease risk to mental health.
We're here for LGBTQ2+ individuals whenever and wherever they need us. If you feel like you're struggling with mental health, start your therapy journey today by completing an assessment.