Six Ways to Support the Mental Health of Your LGBTQ Loved Ones

June is Pride month.  Normally a time of community celebration to show the world the importance of embracing the LGBTQ movement and promoting equality for all, this year, the restrictions placed upon all of us due to the pandemic will mean that many celebrations will be subdued or, in many cases, postponed. 

Family members and loved ones will need to find alternative ways to show support throughout this normally demonstrative time as well as in the everyday, and perhaps it’s time to be reminded of the most helpful ways to support the LGBTQ people in our lives.

With “non-standard” sexual orientation no longer labelled a form of mental illness and huge strides being won in the fight for equality and recognition, the cause has come a long way.  However, the disproportionate level of mental health issues experienced by members of the LGBTQ community remains and includes:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Self-harm
  • Substance Use Disorder (SUD); and
  • Suicide

Exclusion, victimization, and rejection by family, friends and society at large all contribute to over-representation within this demographic of negative behaviors and mental and physical conditions. 

Individuals who identify among any of the groups within the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community are at a higher risk of suicide as compared to the general population.  There is a growing body of evidence to support this risk, although it only relates to direct and systemic discrimination and harassment and not to ambient forms (witnessing or being aware of discrimination being directed at someone else within your cohort), meaning the problem is even more widespread than is currently acknowledged.[1]

While these statistics may feel daunting, the fact that we’ve already come so far and LGBTQ people are increasingly finding their voice and making strides in the workforce and the arts is extremely encouraging.  Who could have envisioned a TV show like Rupaul’s Drag Show, My House, or Pose in the mainstream even five years ago?  This is attributable to the determination of those in the movement who have worked tirelessly to secure the same rights and respect afforded to others. It really is time for friends and family members of those who identify as LGBTQ to show up for the folks we know in this community.

The following are some of the ways you can offer support:

Respect Their Identity

Ever been told you’re a lifesaver? Well, you can be.  Research has shown that the challenges of living in a binary world–including transgender people not being recognized for how they identify, including their preferred use of gender pronouns–puts undue pressure on them and increases the risk of suicide.

Don’t try to make people who identify as transgender conform to society’s norms and ideas of how family, relationships, and authenticity should look.  Calling someone by the name they have chosen for themselves could mean the difference between life and death, especially among youth.[2] Respect their right to choose how they want to dress, what they would like to be called, and how they would like to be addressed.

Break Down the Barriers

LGBTQ people in your life and the wider world need you to look out for them and to either remove or lessen the many barriers that non-LGBTQ people don’t have to face.  It’s your job as frontline support to help educate less empathetic relatives or, in the case of the workplace, lobby for diversity training if it doesn’t yet exist and start to socialize the idea of gender neutral restrooms. Most of all, speak out against unhelpful language and behaviors when you encounter them.  You’ve got this!

It’s Not Yours to Call

Nobody likes an indiscreet person who talks about other people’s business, and nothing could be more sacred than deciding who you choose to share such a personal truth as that of your sexual orientation or gender identity with, along with when you choose to do disclose personal information. 

Even if you think it’s OK to share, it is not your choice, and the person may have a very good reason for not wishing to be out or for choosing the arenas in which to be out. This could result from being on the receiving end of discrimination, abuse, or even violence in the past and could invoke feelings of fear and hesitancy.  You need to let them decide when the time is right, if at all; it’s their life, after-all.

Be a Mental Health First Aider

James Taylor sang it best when he said, “You’ve Got a Friend.”  We all need support from time to time, and given the special challenges of the LGBTQ community, it’s likely they’ll need some extra support but sometimes be too afraid to ask for it.  Studies have shown that discrimination and ignorance among some healthcare professionals mean that LGBTQ and especially transgender people receive sub-standard or, in some cases, no treatment when they need it.[3] 

Make sure they know you’re there to fight in their corner and will help them get the care they need, whether that’s mental, physical, or both.  The internet has given rise to resources at the tips of our fingers, and a quick Google search should help you to locate LGBTQ-friendly practitioners in your area.  You may also be able to put them in touch with peer support groups or mentors, along with appropriate local hotlines. Help is available, but sometimes people need a gentle push toward it and to know you are there to offer unconditional support.

Dig Deep

Just as man doesn’t live by bread alone, causes don’t run on thin air.  Organizations and the causes they champion need support, and that could be anything from volunteering to donations to fundraising or just spreading the word.  The good people at anti-discrimination and LGBTQ-friendly mental health organizations need funding to keep going, so they need as many people as they can get. Again, look for the relevant organizations in your areas and find out the best ways you can help them.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

Last, but by all means not least, do you need to question your own biases?  You know that old saying about looking at yourself before you look to others: are you harboring any biases you’re not even aware of? 

Knowledge is power, so gain a meaningful understanding of the issues your friend or loved one faces, along with the terminology and concepts, and most of all, don’t make assumptions about what is right or impose your views of what the world should look like.  The notion of traditional families and relationships is no longer acceptable or valid in the modern world and only alienates people in the LGBTQ community who are looking at things through a different lens.  Educate yourself in order to avoid the implicit biases that all of us carry around (and which even exist in AI applications) without even realizing it.[4]

Pride Day might be June 28, but our friends in the LGBTQ community need our support 365 days a year.  Make sure you’re there for them in as many ways as you can possibly think of and that you’re fighting within their corner at every opportunity. For now, though, the more you can do to show love and support and make people realize that there is no such thing as “normal,” the faster we will find a way to break down barriers and spread love, not hate.

If you are concerned about any issues discussed in this blog, please contact Heather R. Hayes & Associates.  Call 800-335-0316 or email today.

[1] Peterson, Amanda L. et al. “Ambient Discrimination, Victimization, and Suicidality in a Non-Probability U.S. Sample of LGBTQ Adults”. Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol 50, no. 3, 2021, pp. 1003-1014. Springer Science and Business Media LLC, doi:10.1007/s10508-020-01888-4. Accessed 16 June 2021.

[2] Russell, Stephen T. et al. “Chosen Name Use is Linked to Reduced Depressive Symptoms, Suicidal Ideation, and Suicidal Behavior Among Transgender Youth”. Journal of Adolescent Health, vol 63, no. 4, 2018, pp. 503-505. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.02.003. Accessed 16 June 2021.

[3] Sharma, Dr. Shilpa. “Challenges Faced by The LGBTQ Community- A Comparative Study Between India and Australia.”. Turkish Journal of Computer and Mathematics Education (TURCOMAT), vol 12, no. 4, 2021, pp. 1105-1109. Auricle Technologies, Pvt., Ltd., doi:10.17762/turcomat.v12i4.607. Accessed 16 June 2021.

[4] Poulsen, Adam et al. “Queering Machines”. Nature Machine Intelligence, vol 2, no. 3, 2020, pp. 152-152. Springer Science and Business Media LLC, doi:10.1038/s42256-020-0157-6. Accessed 16 June 2021.

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