While people from all walks of life are subject to mental illness, LGBTQ lives are much more commonly impacted by it than those of their cisgender, straight peers. Everyone needs and deserves to take care of their mental health, and perhaps queer people need it the most.
Queer youth are twice as likely to feel suicidal and are over four times as likely to attempt suicide than their hetero counterparts, and Transgender adults are 40 percent more likely to have reported extreme distress than cisgender adults according to the Human Rights Campaign.
There is no one reason for the amount of mental illness in the queer community. Undoubtedly, for some, the vulnerability of being queer in a society built mainly by and for cisgender, straight people is taxing. Other queer people may not even know they’re mentally ill or may not have the privilege of access to healthcare and medicine. Still, others may face active bullying and persecution while many transgender people, especially youth, have to deal with the daily trauma of being misgendered and deadnamed. These factors play a significant role in the growing number of LGBTQ individuals battling mental illness.
“If you’re trans, you especially need to take care of mental health issues,” said Brett Rozen, a therapist specializing in LGBTQ issues. “If you aren’t comfortable sharing your identity, and don’t allow yourself mental health services, self-hatred can come out because of societal pressures and prejudices. It’s led to a lot of people taking their own lives. Coming out can be a painful and traumatic time, and counseling can be a real lifesaver.”
Other types of discrimination likely also lead to the development or worsening of mental illness in queer people. Facing issues like eviction, homelessness, unemployment, job discrimination, deportation, and harassment are all things that are stressful enough to get in anyone’s head. Beyond all of this, many LGBTQ people take on the added stress of fighting such discrimination.
These trials are why it is imperative for queer people to love themselves, and take medicine and therapy seriously, to take time just merely to exist in our bodies and to advocate for the right of others to do the same.
“Mental health care is so important to wherever you are in life,” Rozen said. “People need an uninvolved third party, someone who can give you feedback which isn’t emotionally tied to you. Often those tied to us can’t be objective. My job isn’t to give advice, it’s to empower you to make informed decisions and help you work through feelings.”
Taking care of mental health also means starting public conversations about the stigma around mental illness and how it affects the LGBTQ community.
“Back in time, mentally ill people were treated horribly,” Rozen said. “We treated people in a primitive way, locked them up, and that’s where the stigma comes from.” He said. “In my practice, I try normalizing illness and understand lots of people are suffering from something.”
Publicly addressing mental health also means advocating for the right of all humans to have access to mental healthcare and to be free of the oppressive situations which exacerbate mental illness — conditions like poverty, transphobia, and abusive home and work environments. Many individuals and organizations already have begun the work of addressing mental illness and its causes throughout the queer community and advocating for universal access to healthcare, therapy, and medicine.
“I offer services on a sliding scale to people who can’t pay the full fee,” Rozen said. “I also offer out-of-network coverage so clients can file and get reimbursement. It’s important to make healthcare available. Healthcare workers have a responsibility to — if you can’t provide services — at least refer clients out. It’s not easy, but struggling with mental health isn’t easy, and people need help. The first psychiatrist visit could be $350 just for a consultation. I’m definitely for universal health care. I think you should never be turned away if you don’t have the money.”