A Brief Introduction to LGBT Mental Health
COMMISSIONED GUEST AUTHOR:
Joda is a full-time gay, part-time casual writer. They have a website over at http://mxjoda.com/ with articles and art, and their twitter contains general nonsense.
Within this article I will be mostly using the acronym LGBT, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. I am using this for ease of reading; it is absolutely not intended to exclude anybody. Ace, nonbinary, aromantic, pansexual, no matter what your identity, you are included. By “Queer” or “LGBT”, I absolutely am including any non-cisgender or non-heterosexual identity. If you feel that you are part of the LGBT community, that is enough. You define your identity, don’t let anybody else dictate to you who you are.
Why am I talking about LGBT mental health? Is it not just the same as straight and cisgender mental health? Well, yes and no. Queer people actually tend to be at a much higher risk for poor mental health.
The first question we should ask, upon hearing this statement is: “Why?”.
And the first response we should give, is that it’s absolutely not because we are queer. Merely identifying as LGBT+ does not set us up for failure, or automatically mean that we will be mentally ill later in life. It just means that we unfortunately face discrimination, prejudice, bullying, and otherwise difficult situations a lot more than our non-LGBT peers. Think about it, someone walking on a path with loads of debris in the way is a lot more likely to trip and fall.
So, what do we do about it? How can we make this better?
If you are LGBT yourself, it’s especially important to practice self care, particularly if you’re facing discrimination or prejudice, or if you’re having trouble with your LGBT identity. Unfortunately, we can’t wave a magic wand and take away all of the homophobia and transphobia in the world. Believe me, if I could, I would’ve done it a long time ago. That kind of bigotry is absolutely unacceptable, and very much not your fault. But we can’t control everybody, all we can control is ourselves, and our reactions.
This is where self care comes in. You can find plenty of articles on self care throughout the rest of Coco’s website!
It can be difficult as an LGBT person, when we’re trying to find a therapist or doctor to help us. We don’t know for sure if they’ll be supportive. Maybe we haven’t fully come out yet, maybe we’re not quite sure of ourselves, maybe we’ve already had a bad experience in the healthcare system and don’t feel comfortable accessing our usual provider. Whatever the reason, it’s very common to feel a little unsure about things. We can find ways to advocate for ourselves, and help ourselves even if it feels like nobody else is in our corner.
There are many charities and organisations who try to help LGBT people make our way through life. Organisations like The Trevor Project in the USA specifically focus on LGBT crisis intervention.
Coming Out to Yourself And Others
Coming out is one of the biggest steps we take as LGBT people. When we finally decide to live our lives outside of the closet, that’s a moment when we’re actively showing all of our friends, family, and peers an integral part of who we are. And that can be scary.
There’s already plenty of homophobia and transphobia in the world, and we are of course worried that we’re putting ourselves in the firing line. It’s even harder to bear that if it’s coming from someone we’ve been close with before. It’s vital to remember that it’s okay to be anxious around this time. Being vulnerable is difficult, and that’s not likely to change for us any time soon.
Coming out to a therapist can be very scary. Where you are in your personal journey will usually determine how difficult it is for you. If you’ve been out loud and proud for 25 years, you may find it a little easier to handle a homophobic therapist, and more able to terminate the relationship. On the other hand, if you’re still questioning, still unsure about your identity but you want to discuss it in a supportive environment, it may be very hard for you to experience discrimination.
Coming out should be a time where you have accepted yourself, and where you want to share yourself with your nearest and dearest. We don’t always get sunshine and rainbows, if you’ll pardon the pun, so it’s incredibly important to make sure you have some support around you.
Within your personal life, it can be helpful to come out to one person at a time; perhaps coming out to a friend you don’t see very often, or to someone you know is supportive to the LGBT community. This can help you test the waters, see how you feel about it. For people you’re unsure about, perhaps just bring up a piece of LGBT news, or talk about an LGBT movie you’ve seen recently, and gauge their reaction from that. With that said, if you think coming out will put you at risk, there is absolutely no shame in staying closeted.
Coming Out In Therapy
With regards to a therapeutic relationship, if you’re already in therapy and trying to figure out if your therapist is supportive, there are a few ways to do that while still keeping yourself safe. You can use some of the same techniques mentioned above; talking about lgbt news, or an LGBT character in a movie. You can also mention an LGBT friend who is having issues, which can be an entirely made up person if you like. Talking about your issues as though they’re happening to a friend could be a good way to bring up a topic that you’re unsure about. If the therapist seems supportive and comfortable then now is the time to tell them you’re actually talking about yourself.
You can, of course, always ask them outright. “I am LGBT, and I would like to talk about that today.” If you get a bad reaction, you are well within your rights to terminate that relationship. In this case, you may also be able to report them to a higher-up. It’s also incredibly important to note that any bad reaction from someone else is NOT a reflection on you. If you are LGBT, questioning, or anything along those lines, that absolutely does not make you a bad person. How other people react is their responsibility, not yours.
If you are in a position to choose your therapist, you can search specifically for ones that advertise themselves as being LGBT-friendly. Many therapists are specialised in LGBT issues, having done extra training or being LGBT themselves. This information will be in their biography on therapist search sites. Having a therapist with LGBT specialisation can be very helpful for myriad reasons, particularly as it will hopefully reduce anxiety about your treatment. If you know it’s a topic you want to discuss, you can bring it up in your very first meeting. If you are not in that position, you can ask for it to be noted in your files that you need an LGBT-friendly therapist; in this way your medical records will come out for you!
For trans people, therapy can be a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. As part of transition, you will likely have to visit a gender therapist. These people are specifically focused on trans issues, and they will likely understand what you’re going through very well. They may even be able to point you towards a non-gender therapist who can help you long-term. Navigating the healthcare system while trans can be difficult at times, but there is support out there.
Everybody has the right to receive care, and the LGBT community is absolutely no exception to this rule. We may have certain unique experiences, we may face hurdles and hardships, but it’s incredibly important to know that you are not alone. There is an entire world out there walking your path with you, all you have to do is keep going.