The recent film, The Imitation Game, may have surprised many viewers with the harsh stigmatization of homosexuality of decades past and the emotional and psychological toll that this takes on an LGBTQ person. Films like this and a wider representation of all orientations and identities in current media reflect the changes occurring in the twenty-first century and have allowed a discussion about the psychological effects of decades of discrimination for the first time.
Despite a perceived growing acceptance, LGBTQ individuals face a greater risk of mental and behavioral health problems due to a host of factors unique to their identity. These include feelings of isolation or being unaccepted, fear of lack of family support, bullying in school or work settings, and even harassment and fear of violence. Studies show that people who identify along the LGBT spectrum often resist getting help for fear that a mental health provider won’t understand their issues, or worse, discriminate against them because of their identity.
Previously in the field of psychology and mental health treatment, identifying along the spectrum of LGBTQ was considered a mental illness. Conversion therapy, or reparative therapy, was used to change sexual orientation and identity. While this therapy has been condemned by the American Psychiatric Association, it is still legal in many states.
In recent nationwide studies by the American Psychological Association (APA), many findings concluded that LGBTQ persons will generally face higher risks of mental health problems, including an astonishingly higher risk of suicide for gay and lesbian-identifying individuals.
In studies of women with sisters of different sexual orientation, it was found that lesbian women tended to be just as well-adjusted as their heterosexual sisters, but bisexual women tended to report lower self-esteem and higher risk factors for depression and other mental health complications.
Overall, findings among most studies conclude that discrimination and fearing for lack of acceptance raise the risk of mental health disorders, and that LGBTQ individuals necessitate more specialized resources for mental and behavioral health treatment, but were not inherently more likely to have a mental health disorder based on sexuality or gender identity alone. This distinction is important. The likelihood of mental and behavioral health issues is not contingent on the identity itself. It is a function of the individuals’ surroundings.
With evidence usually concluding that mental health is a high priority especially in LGBTQ persons, we can help others achieve greater mental health by normalizing and speaking out about previously stigmatized issues of sexual and gender identity and mental illness.
Check out these resources for LGBTQ individuals and allies:
It Gets Better Project
Local, State, and National Organizations