The last few decades have seen numerous signs of progress for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ+) community. But even as equal rights continue to expand, there are numerous issues the community faces that have historically been difficult to address.
LGBTQ+ mental health disparities still exist within the healthcare world, but it’s important to address where the differences lie so we can move forward with more equitable solutions for every person.
Historical Context of LGBTQ+ Health Care
Health care has long been an evolving science, but it hasn’t always been open or understanding to everyone. Numerous factors shaped discriminatory views towards people in the LGBTQ+ community, such as cultural biases and religious doctrines.
Differing stances by numerous psychological experts also shaped cultural views. Sigmund Freud wrote in 1908 that homosexuality was not an illness, but he heteronormatively finished the statement by noting that it wasn’t “natural,” either. Sandor Rado later argued that same-sex relationships happened in response to pathological family relationships; therefore, homosexuality was a psychiatric condition.
Health professionals refused to recognize LGBTQ+ individuals as deserving of standard care until the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973 and advocated for equal protection under the law. It was a historic shift in how medical experts treated people who weren’t heterosexual, but it certainly didn’t fix everything.
Healthcare professionals with bigoted views still give medical advice and treatments, regardless of where the community stands on definitions or classifications. The Center for American Progress found that in 2017, 29% of transgender respondents and 8% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual respondents couldn’t access their health care provider because the provider refused to see them based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s unacceptable.
Most Common LGBTQ+ Mental Health Challenges
Advocates continue to address barriers and disparities in LGBTQ+ mental health and health care, especially regarding ongoing challenges. Inaccessible treatments or lack of professional help contribute to an amplification of the following mental health struggles often faced by individuals within this community.
Depression and Isolation
People forced to live as their inauthentic selves feel unable to enjoy their lives or achievements. Experts estimate that 30-60% of LGBTQ+ people experience depression during their lives because they don’t feel safe to live in their true identity.
When faced with a possible future of constantly feeling the need to hide in isolation, people are also more likely to consider suicide. LGBTQ+ youth are four times as likely to consider suicide as heterosexual youth because of factors like discrimination and bigotry.
Constant Mild to Extreme Anxiety
LGBTQ+ people don’t just come out to their loved ones. They come out repeatedly whenever they meet new people at their workplaces, after moving cities, or when they meet new acquaintances. There’s always a chance they’ll meet someone who doesn’t accept their identity or will subject them to homophobic treatment. It leads to increased anxiety that affects their quality of life.
Various Substance Use and Misuse
The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that people who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community rely on substance use or misuse more than heterosexual individuals. Fear, anxiety, and isolation are just a few factors that could lead to substance use, and a lack of access to medical care prevents people from avoiding or stopping addictions.
Long-Term Eating Disorders
People also respond to a crisis of identity and community by developing eating disorders. Researchers found that 54% of LGBTQ adolescents receive an eating disorder diagnosis during their lifetime, and another 21% suspect they have one. Many people can’t get a diagnosis because they can’t find a healthcare provider or therapist.
Obtaining Health Insurance
Even if non-heterosexual people can find unbiased health care professionals, they may not have insurance to cover that care. There are still 27 states and four territories that still have not passed health insurance discrimination bans specifically to prevent these disparities in mental health and health care. That’s more than half of America living without access to unbiased, compassionate mental and physical healthcare.
Addressing LGBTQ+ Mental Health Disparities
There are many ways to address the most common disparities. Healthcare reform at the federal and state levels is a significant way to remove barriers erected by insurance providers and private hospitals or clinics.
Again, discrimination bans still don’t exist in more than half of the U.S., posing the most significant barrier to progress. Informed voters must show up in every local, state, and federal election to support representatives who have their best interests in mind.
Even if health insurance were easily accessible to everyone, there would still be discrimination on an individual basis. Accessibility, acceptance, and LGBTQ+ equity need to become a standardized part of medical training. Continued normalization of LGBTQ+ acceptance in society and the workplace, and representation of that acceptance within many forms of media, would also encourage people to express their true identities without fear.
Mental Health Resources for the LGBTQ+ Community
There are still mental health resources for anyone who can’t get professional care. You can check out the following providers for support outside of a primary care provider or counselor.
The Crisis Text Line
Anyone can text the Crisis Text Line to connect with trained volunteer counselors at any hour of the day. They assist people through mental health crises like self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and eating disorder relapses. They’ll also help individuals through anxiety and depression related to ongoing world events, like the pandemic or any upcoming elections.
The Trevor Project
The Trevor Project provides a free phone line to LGBTQ+ youth struggling with suicidal thoughts and other mental health crises. They’re available to call 24/7 and never charge for a caller’s time, no matter how long the phone call lasts. Anyone can also reach out through their text line or online messaging system if they feel unsafe to speak over the phone.
The Trans Lifeline
Mental health disparities within the trans community differ from other LGBTQ+ people’s lived experiences. Transgender people can call the Trans Lifeline to speak with transgender counselors every day of the week from 11 a.m. to 5 a.m. EST. There’s no cost for anyone seeking assistance.
The Human Rights Campaign Healthcare Equality Index
The Human Rights Campaign created the Healthcare Equality Index to evaluate local health care facilities and provide a network of equitable and inclusive practices. Anyone can search for providers in their hometown by entering their ZIP code into the provided search box. This tool makes it easier to find local mental health facilities within an insurance provider’s network or on a sliding scale fee.
The It Gets Better Project
LGBTQ+ youth can connect with the It Gets Better Project to receive help anywhere around the globe. The website has resources to educate people who are suicidal, depressed, or anxious about their future. The project also lists local resources for in-person support and care.
The Future of LGBTQ+ Mental Health Barriers
Addressing existing disparities and barriers within LGBTQ+ health care will require multiple fronts and more time. With increased education, representation, and legal protection, the community will find more experts who provide inclusive mental health care.
For now, people in the LGBTQ+ community who are struggling can reach out to the above resources to ask questions and find support whenever they need a helping hand. We at www.rtor.org and our nonprofit sponsor Laurel House, Inc., also support you!
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
About the Author: Ginger Abbot is a lifestyle and learning writer who talks about mental health, career development, and personal growth. Read more of her work on Classrooms, where she serves as Editor and contributing writer.
The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.
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