Jared was fifteen when he fell into a depression and contemplated ending his life several times. He knew he was gay but loathed himself for it. His traditional Catholic upbringing frowned on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) orientations. Because of his mental illness, he pulled out of school, slogged through home school, hardly had a friend, and was under a lot of medication. At 18, he opted to go abroad to study and start a new life. There he found his sense of belongingness with Mark and his circle of gay friends. His depression gradually eased up as he accepted his sexual orientation.
LGBT mental health is a problem. Straight Jacket author, Matthew Todd, writes “Society treats everyone from birth as if they are heterosexual. If you’re not heterosexual and/or cisgendered (where your gender aligns with the sex you are assigned at birth) then there is huge pressure to suppress that part of yourself.”
A five year survey commissioned by PACE, an LGBT mental health charity, discovered that 34% of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals under the age of 26 have attempted suicide at least once. About 48% of young transsexuals have also made some suicide attempt at one point in their lives. Their mental health issues have largely stemmed from homophobic prejudice and bullying within their own families and schools.
LGBT people have to deal with a lot of rejection and hostility from different areas of society in the forms of:
- Unaccepting demeanour and attitudes from family and friends
- Bullying or shaming at school
- Damnation from many religions
- Danger of violence or embarrassment from strangers in public places
- Harassment at work
- Casual homophobic comments
- Negative portrayals of LGBTs in media
…and a lot more. With such an onslaught of antipathy from several quarters, it is no wonder LGBT persons have a very difficult time picking up their self-esteem and finding any belongingness in a world that largely ostracises them.
In this regard, many LGBT individuals wrestle with their identities which leave them subject to mental health issues such as:
- Alcohol and substance abuse and addiction
- Self-harm; suicide attempts
- Low self-esteem
- Major depression
- Post traumatic stress disorder from bullying
- Damaged relationships especially within the family circle
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Bipolar disorder
Why is LGBT Mental Health Important?
The mind and body are intrinsically tied. If the mind is unhealthy, the body also falls into sickness or weakness. Improving LGBT mental health may ensure the general well-being of LGBT individuals. If gay, lesbian, bisexuals, and transgenders get the opportunities to bolster their self-esteem by being accepted by their peers and family, health concerns may be decreased in the areas of:
- Costs for physical and psychiatric care
- Disease (ex. HIV) transmission and progression
- The number of psychologically unfit individuals
- Suicides, self-harm, and self-abuse
Selecting a Therapist for LGBT Issues
Not all therapists are qualified to treat LGBT patients. Those who are usually have a lot of experience dealing with LGBT issues and may be an LGBT individual himself. However, there are not many therapists like these that are available in every community.
The good news is that some LGBT specialized therapists have opted to provide distant therapy services through the internet or over the phone. People considering sex change surgery are usually required to attend therapy first before surgery. Therapy over the net may answer the availability of such required treatment.
Selecting the right therapist or mental health care provider is crucial for an LGBT patient to get the most out of his treatment. When talking to the therapist, one needs to:
- be comfortable with his therapist
- know the background of his therapist’s experience working with LGBT individuals
- have confidence about giving out personal information or details about one’s sexual orientation or preferences.
- be open about thoughts and feelings about anxiety, fear, suicide, self-harm, and depression