Mental Health and the LGBTQ Community
- June 14, 2016 |
- General |
Due to societal prejudice, discrimination and violence against LGBTQ people, rates of depression, anxiety, suicide attempts, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use and physical health disparities, are common among sexual and gender minorities. Experiencing repeated harm as an oppressed minority is a proven predictor of having mental health issues.
According to the latest National School Climate Survey (glsen.org) done in 2013 by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), seven out of 10 LGBTQ youth face harassment in their schools. Research conducted by the Family Acceptance Project (familyproject.sfsu.edu/overview) shows how highly rejecting parents or caregivers make it exponentially more likely that their LGBTQ children will attempt suicide, experience major depression, abuse drugs and experience greater risks for HIV and STIs.
There is a long history of LGBTQ people being marginalized by inaccurate beliefs of having a mental disorder, being mean spirited, and/or in need of changing. The field of psychology has a tainted history with egregious harms done to LGBTQ people these past 100+ years including: shaming LGBTQ clients, conversion therapy, lobotomies and electro-shock therapies.
The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) updated their statement against conversion therapy this past December, 2015, acknowledging that “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender nonconforming and queer individuals, couples and families continue to experience discrimination and prejudice by some psychotherapists for their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.”
On April 27, 2016, Tennessee became the only state in the country to pass a “religious freedom” law specifically allowing state-licensed counselors to refuse to work with LGBTQ clients based on the counselor’s personal prejudices. State regulatory boards are charged with ensuring state-licensed health care professionals do not discriminate against, or deny services to individuals, based upon the person’s age, religious beliefs, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. However in California, conversion therapists continue to practice changing adult clients’ sexual orientation and/or gender identity to straight and cisgender. California prohibits licensed therapists from doing this with minors.
LGBTQ individuals are often used as the scapegoats for society’s discomfort with sexual and gender diversity. We are the recipients of “shame-based trauma” where our very being-ness has been questioned, disregarded and assaulted.
When our existence is repeatedly invalidated we feel the effects of this trauma by:
- Feeling devoid of purpose or meaning in our lives.
- Having difficulty sustaining intimate relationships.
- Using behaviors that become self-destructive in attempts to self-soothe.
- Perpetually striving for perceived success, trying to prove our worth in work, love and life without fully taking in our unconditional worth.
Most of us were not born into families who were also LGBTQ and could give us the value of their experience in how to deal with this type of discrimination. We have been placed in the unenviable position of needing to become our most authentic selves in the face of much opposition.
This struggle is also part of what we have to offer the world, to demonstrate how to be compassionate with ourselves in the midst of a frequently hostile environment. Although bigotry often begets bigotry and we can criticize or devalue each other based on how we’ve been shamed, we have other options. We can learn to recognize our own value, heal and show how to achieve greater compassion in a world that is in dire need of it. We can do so, with courage, conviction and the strength of our experiences.
Thankfully, there are supportive LGBTQ affirmative psychotherapists and organizations like CAMFT (camft.org), who are advocating for culturally competent care for LGBTQ clients. When we access knowledgeable, not just friendly, care from an LGBTQ affirmative therapist, we can address the internalized homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and heterosexism. We can heal. We can learn to become our most authentic self. We can learn to live more fully.
James Guay is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (#MFC39252)in West Hollywood, working primarily with LGBTQ clients since 1996.
For more information or to contact him, go to livingmorefully.com. For information regarding James radio talk show, go to thejamesandheathershow.com.
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- GLSEN Responds to Obama’s Call to End Conversion Therapy
- Government Report: ‘Ex-Gay’ Therapy is Harmful
- UC San Diego Ranked Among Top 10 LGBTQ-Friendly Universities in the Nation
- BLACK & WHITE BALL: A COMMUNITY CELEBRATION SUPPORTING THE LGBTQ CENTER LONG BEACH