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Understanding Unique Mental Health Challenges In The Queer Community: Statistics And Reducing Stigma

Jun 25, 2024

Understanding Unique Mental Health Challenges In The Queer Community: Statistics And Reducing Stigma

As we’re wrapping up Pride Month, we wanted to take a moment to highlight the unique mental health challenges affecting our community (69% of HER users experience mental health challenges). With support from BetterHelp’s Editorial Team, this article (#sponsored) aims to inform and empower you in your journey towards accessing the quality support and care you deserve.

Trigger Warning: mentions of mental health struggles, discrimination, assault, and suicide.

Mental health and identity are often intrinsically intertwined. For individuals in the LGBTQ+ community, challenges like marginalization, discrimination, lack of access to resources, and an increased risk of mental illness can lead to chronic stress, burnout, and other mental health challenges. 

Because of the unique challenges the queer community faces, reducing stigma becomes a central focus for those in all communities. Working together to reduce shame and advocate for increased and more culturally informed resources can be a way for all people to stand up for LGBTQ+ individuals and make a difference. Individuals can start by learning more about these impacts and current mental health statistics.  

queer women hugging and trying to go through mental health challenges

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Unique barriers faced by the LGBTQ+ community

The queer community often faces unique barriers to mental health treatment and support due to marginalization. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines marginalization as “relegation to or placement in an unimportant or depowered position in society.” This spot in society is often placed on communities by outside forces like popular media, cultural stigma, harassment, physical harm, harmful legislation, and other forms of oppression. Below are more barriers that may impact mental wellness for LGBTQ+ individuals.


Stigma and discrimination 

According to the book Global LGBT Health cited in the Springer Link journal, stigma can range from “extreme acts of violence, such as murder, to more subtle yet pervasive forms of marginalization and social exclusion, such as being socially rejected, denied employment opportunities, and given poor healthcare.” 

Stigma is unfair treatment and assumptions of a community, group, or person based on identity or culture. In the LGBTQ+ community, stigma can arise from societal or cultural oppression, such as a belief that LGBTQ+ people act “a certain way” or are invalid in their identities. LGBTQ+ people often face job loss, home loss, medical maltreatment, misgendering, physical violence, abuse, homophobia, transphobia, verbal violence, and a lack of safety in their communities.


Access barriers 

According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), discrimination in healthcare settings is common for queer individuals. People may face a lack of access to gender-affirming care. However, gender-affirming care has been found to reduce depression and anxiety in trans people, showcasing the importance of addressing these barriers.

People in the community may struggle to access resources if a provider participates in oppression due to personal beliefs, even if they do not outwardly state that they are doing so. Some states in the US have laws that ban or restrict gender-affirming care and other medical resources for LGBTQ+ individuals. In the CAP’s survey on discrimination in healthcare, they found: 

  • 8% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer people reported that a healthcare provider refused to see them because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. 
  • 6% experienced a doctor refusing to give them healthcare related to their identity. 
  • 7% experienced a doctor refusing to recognize one’s family, including a partner or their children. 
  • 9% reported abusive or verbally aggressive language from doctors when receiving treatment.
  • 7% of the participants experienced unwanted physical contact, including sexual assault in a healthcare setting. 

In addition, 29% of transgender individuals seeking healthcare were refused care by a provider due to their gender identity.


LGBTQ+ mental health statistics

To understand how mental health barriers impact the LGBTQ+ community, it may be helpful to look at current statistics since 2020.


Transgender and non-binary mental health 

The Yale School of Public Health reports that transgender individuals are at a higher risk of mental health concerns. Transgender and non-binary individuals are six times more likely to have a mood or anxiety disorder, three times as likely to be prescribed psychiatric medication, and more than six times more likely to attempt suicide, which results in hospitalization. The School of Law at UCLA also reports that over 40% of all trans adults in the US have attempted suicide

TransPop, a research team looking at transgender health, has published multiple studies on trans healthcare. They aim to provide a more accurate and up-to-date representation of how current healthcare impacts the trans community. Some of the studies published by their team include the following: 


Homophobia and other forms of oppression 

Those part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer communities also face oppression specific to their identities. Mental Health America (MHA) reports various statistics on how mental health impacts these populations, including but not limited to the following: 

  • 39% of LGBTQ+ adults report having a mental illness within the last year, amounting to almost 5.8 million people. 
  • Although LGBTQ+ people are at a higher risk of discrimination and stigma, they also use healthcare services 2.5 times more than those not in the community, showcasing a desire to receive support. 
  • LGBTQ+ teens are six times more likely to experience depression. 
  • More than 50% of LGBTQ+ adults report cases of being denied care, harsh language, or identity blame as the “cause” of an illness. 
  • Healthcare providers have been found to prefer heterosexual clients. 

LGBTQ+ individuals may also be more likely to experience other forms of harm, such as abuse in intimate partner relationships and targeted physical and emotional harm from strangers. The queer community is also more vulnerable to housing insecurity, financial challenges, and job discrimination.


The importance of culturally-competent care for the queer community 

Culturally competent care is healthcare that highlights the unique intersectional factors of oppression that often affect marginalized groups like those in the LGBTQ+ community. This form of support considers each person’s unique barriers to support, as well as the traumatic experiences people in this community are at a higher risk of experiencing.  

The Health Policy Institute at the University of Georgetown reports that there are a few ways healthcare providers can provide more culturally competent care, including the following: 

  • Providing interpreter services 
  • Recruiting and retaining minority staff, especially in positions of leadership
  • Providing training on cultural awareness
  • Coordinating with traditional healers
  • Working with community health workers
  • Including family and community members in healthcare decision-making
  • Incorporating culture-specific attitudes and values into health promotion 
  • Expanding hours of operation 
  • Considering sliding scale or low-cost services 
  • Providing linguistic competency 
  • Opening clinics in geographic areas that may be more accessible to marginalized communities

Culturally competent care also centers on racial identity, which can often be tied to how individuals experience oppression as LGBTQ+ adults. The intersection of race and sexual identity can be crucial, as over one million adults in the US identify as LGBT and Black. BIPOC LGBTQ+ individuals may be at a higher risk of mental illness and suicide than white individuals in the community, especially when identifying as transgender or non-binary. 

A lesbian goes to get BetterHelp advices

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Finding support

Being part of a community that faces significant stigma and oppression can be challenging. However, mental health support is available, and LGBT-informed providers are seeking to offer their services, including those who are part of the community themselves. However, some people may be hesitant to try in-person therapy due to past experiences of discrimination in healthcare. In these cases, online therapy platforms like BetterHelp or PrideCounseling may be more accessible. 

Through an online platform, prospective clients can sign up using a short questionnaire. The questionnaire allows them to specify whether they prefer to connect with an LGBTQ+ or BIPOC therapist. In addition, clients can note whether they have been struggling with any mental health challenges related to their identity that they’d like to discuss in therapy. Online platforms also offer resources like worksheets, journaling prompts, and online support groups. 

In a 2021 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, researchers found that an online affirmative cognitive-behavioral therapy program (CBT) was effective in supporting LGBTQ+ youth, reducing depression and stress levels. More studies are recommended to understand the full impact of internet interventions on all intersectional groups within the queer community.


Takeaway 

Individuals in the queer community face unique barriers to mental healthcare that can cause significant stress and lead to an increased risk of mental illness and suicide attempts. Receiving quality and culturally informed care can be crucial for supporting those with unique support needs. 

If you are seeking an inclusive form of care, consider reaching out to a therapist online or in your area who advertises services toward the LGBT community and has training in culturally competent and identity-based care. You’re not alone, and support is available.

Mook's in charge of the media partnerships at HER, where she's all about boosting queer voices. She makes sure every partnership is real and lively. She's also the go-to for projects in Thailand. Mook's got her hands in a bunch of stuff like testing things on the App Store and Play Store, managing guides on Apple Maps, and setting up in-app events. On the practical side, she keeps an eye on results, works on sales case studies, and takes care of stuff on WordPress.

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