Although there have been steps taken to create equality for the LGBTQ+ community in the United States, there is still significant work that must be done to achieve true equality and acceptance. Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity are still very much a reality across the country. The experience of these stigmas and discrimination put LGBTQ+ individuals at an increased risk for developing mental health disorders. Studies show that 60 percent of LGBTQ+ adolescents report feelings of sadness and hopelessness that prevent them from participating in activities they once enjoyed. Furthermore, transgender youth are four times more likely to develop depression and LGBTQ+ adolescents are twice as likely to feel suicidal and over four times more likely to attempt suicide.
Challenges Faced by the LGBTQ+ Community
Although there has been significant progress in achieving equality for the LGBTQ+ community, there are still several notable issues that must be addressed. Stigmas and discrimination are still prevalent across the United States, creating barriers that negatively impact the physical, mental, and emotional health of LGBTQ+ individuals.
- Violence: Hate crimes are widespread across the country. In 2015, 1 in 5 hate crimes committed were attributed to sexual orientation or gender identity. More recently, transgender individuals, specifically trans women of color, have been specifically targeted for violent crimes. There are still several states that do not include sexual orientation or gender identity under hate crime laws.
- Parenting and adoption: There are only a handful of states that have protected rights for same-sex couples to parent under the law. Furthermore, several states allow adoption agencies to deny adoption to same-sex couples. At this time, only California prohibits discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identities.
- Conversion Therapy: Although eight states have banned the practice of “gay conversion therapy” for minors, the vast majority of states still allow children to be sent to these programs despite the American Psychological Association openly condemning the harmful practice.
- Employment discrimination: In many states, LGBTQ+ individuals can be fired from a job because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, regardless of their job performance. Although some states have passed non-discrimination laws, a majority of states do not have this protection in place, forcing individuals to conceal their true identities in order to protect their ability to earn a living.
- Housing discrimination: LGBTQ+ individuals can also be legally denied housing due to their identity. Studies show that same-sex couples experience unfavorable treatment when trying to rent properties and 28 states still legally allow housing discrimination.
- Healthcare: In a majority of states, insurance companies can discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals. Legally, they are able to block a person from accessing the treatment they need. Because LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to struggle with substance abuse or mental health issues, this can be life-threatening.
Mental Health Needs for LGBTQ+ Individuals
LGBTQ+ individuals face barriers when trying to access mental health resources. Despite movements to destigmatize sexual orientation and gender identity, acceptance is not universal, and many people struggle with fears related to homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia. There has also been a pervasive history of mistrust between LGBTQ+ individuals and the medical community due to experiences with “corrective” therapies and the fact that homosexuality was included as a mental health disorder until the 1970s. For those who are members of more than one marginalized group, including race or socioeconomic status, their experiences in accessing healthcare services can be even more complex.
The increased risk for mental health disorders among the LGBTQ+ community can widely be attributed to discrimination and marginalization. They are more likely to be victims of bullying, violence, discrimination, and abandonment by family or friends. When assessing the mental health needs of LGBTQ+ individuals, it is important to note that many of their concerns and experiences are the same as the general population, but intersectionality in their identities can make their needs more distinct.
Mental health treatment for LGBTQ+ individuals must be designed to address their unique needs. Aspects of treatment should include addressing aspects such as:
- Disproportionate rates of psychological distress LGBTQ+ individuals experience
- Experiences of mistreatment and stigmas when seeking healthcare
- Intersectionality of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, culture, religion, and socioeconomic status
- Impact and stigmatization of HIV
- Family rejection, bullying, and violence experienced due to sexual orientation and gender identity
- Internalized and interpersonal stigmas
- Influence of religion
- Fear of “coming out”
Research shows that the resources available to LGBTQ+ individuals is largely lacking, and healthcare designed to address their specific needs are imperative. Understanding the disparities that currently exist can inform the healthcare community and ensure relevant resources are created to support at-risk individuals.
If you or someone you love is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, Nexus Recovery Services can help. We’re an inclusive outpatient treatment center in the Los Angeles area, and we’re here to assist you on the road to recovery. Contact Nexus today for more information.