Being part of a minority group is never easy. It comes with unseen struggles and challenges, harassment, discrimination, and aggression. Undeniably this will lead to mental health issues as we can only stay strong for so long. The LGBTQ+ community still faces hate and discrimination, especially within schools, causing depression, anxiety, trauma, and more.
LGBTQ+ teens are 6 times more likely to experience depression than non-LGBTQ+ teens. This means that they’re also more likely to have suicidal feelings. Unfortunately, the health disparities don't end there. While seeking treatment they might have a harder time finding a provider that understands and empathizes with them. Because of this, LGBTQ+ teens often avoid or can't access culturally competent healthcare, thereby worsening their physical and mental health.
We asked some LGBTQ+ youth and allies about their experiences with mental health. These are their stories.
An ally talks about their friends’ experiences regarding mental health: “A lot of people are unable to share their experiences and have to hide their identity at home because their parents are not really accepting or it's a taboo topic in their house”.
An inability to express one's feelings or identity authentically can contribute to worsened mental health outcomes. One reason why therapy is so effective is that it gives us a chance to openly talk about our feelings and thoughts. When this is restricted at home, young people are likely to experience heightened anxiety and depression.
Another person says, “some of my friends are hesitant to openly accept their partners' due to fear of judgment and harassment. A lot of couples are open but private as in everyone at school knows they are together but we don’t reveal that to any teachers or their parents”.
Here you can see the importance of having a supportive community at school. A support system is crucial to anyone's wellbeing, but especially those in marginalized groups that often already feel isolated and misunderstood. This student’s friends feel safe among their social group, but not around the adults in their lives. While that peer support is helpful, classroom safety and school connectedness are both protective factors in student mental health.
Some other factors that students mentioned were negative stereotypes in the media, misrepresentation, and older generations’ beliefs. One student said: "Growing up, there was never even an opportunity for me to think I could be queer. All I had ever seen on TV were these hyper-masculine gay women, or women who were bisexual but not believed. I didn't fit that box, so it never even crossed my mind. All the while I was unhappy in my hetero relationships and thought there was just something wrong with me... it was really stressful and disheartening."
Although the Western media has improved a lot recently with the queer representation in the media, it often misrepresents the LGBTQ+ community with stereotypes like those mentioned above and is not reflective of culturally diverse LGBTQ+ populations. Authentic representation in the media can assure people that they are not alone, they are understood, and their experiences are valid. This can drastically change the course of someone's mental health, and is critical to eliminating disparities.
This student goes on to describe her school environment: "I was fortunate to have a principal as a child who was openly gay. While it was really cool to see someone gay as a leader in my community, I also saw how much backlash he faced which was pretty angering and scary. I don't think I realized at the time, but I definitely internalized how unsupportive the parents and adults in my town were toward the LGBTQ+ community from a young age. This made it really hard to come out later."
Neolth is a digital mental health platform designed to provide personalized, 24/7 mental health support to all students. With LGBTQ+ specific content created by experts and students, we're determined to eliminate the stigma around mental health, support you in finding your identity, and help you manage your anxiety, stress, and other mental health struggles. Join our community today by signing up at cloud.neolth.com.
About the interviewer:
Tahsina Riju (she/her) is an Editorial intern at Neolth and a senior at Smith College studying Psychology and Economics. She is passionate about working towards making mental health issues more known and the resources to deal with those issues more accessible in immigrant communities. Some of the things in psychology that have caught her attention are gender role beliefs, immigrant generational differences, and religion as a healing source. After graduation she’s planning to go into a career that combines both psychology and economics. When not in school, she likes to spend time with her cat, watch shows, and go out with friends.