Pride & Mental Health – Beyond Stereotypes

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June is Pride Month, a time of year to commemorate the identity, resilience, and cultural contributions of LGBTQ+ people. As we celebrate the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity, this month also reminds us to reflect on the challenges overcome by the LGBTQ+ community and those that remain. One ongoing concern is about the mental health of this historically discriminated-against group, which is why Pride Month and mental health discussions go hand in hand.  

What does Pride Month have to do with mental health?

Being gay, queer, or nonbinary does not inherently make a person predisposed to having a mental illness. However, there is a strong correlation between the two. The LGBTQ+ community has routinely been found to have poorer mental health outcomes than their heterosexual and cis-gendered counterparts with significantly higher rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, and suicide.

  • About 2 out of every 5 LQBTQ+ individuals report having a mental illness the year prior.
  • LGBTQ+ teens are 6X more likely to experience depression than their peers; twice as likely to feel suicidal, and 4X more likely to attempt suicide
  • Nearly half of all transgender adults considered suicide compared to 4% of the general population 

It’s not a coincidence. The driving force behind these numbers lies in the historical marginalization of gay and nonbinary individuals. This constant othering created a toxic environment of harassment, exclusion, and shame that also made it difficult to reach out for health. Although the LGBTQ+ community has made leaps regarding legal rights and social acceptance, it continues to face discrimination and stigma. 

Unique Challenges to LGBTQ+ Mental Health

While mental illness can affect people from all walks of life, gay and non-cis people face heightened risks.

Threats to legal rights

In 2023 there was a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation introduced (three times more than the previous year) accompanied by a rise in anti-transgender rhetoric. In addition to targeting their legal rights, the hostile political climate has contributed to LGBTQ+ individuals fearing for their safety and unsure about their future which in turn, leads to higher rates of anxiety, depression, and stress.

Potential Loss of Friends or Family

One of the greatest emotional difficulties for LGBTQ+ people is coming out. The uncertainty of not knowing how their family and friends will react can be an isolating experience. Nearly 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ youths are afraid of their family’s reaction and a third worry they’ll be treated differently by their loved ones. The fear of losing one’s social network is a heavy emotional burden, one that can lead to or exacerbate or lead to mental illness. 

Fear for personal safety

Two-thirds of LGBTQ+ people have experienced anti-LGBT+ violence or abuse. Assault can be a highly traumatic experience that can result in mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can also make it difficult to trust others, leave a person angry and on edge, or have difficulty sleeping due to flashbacks — all of which can further erode mental health.

How Common is Drug Abuse for LGBTQ+ Individuals? 

For many LGBTQ+ individuals, mental health challenges are often intertwined with substance abuse or addiction. Across a variety of groups and substances, LGBTQ+ individuals consistently have higher rates of drug use and abuse fueled by struggles with harassment, discrimination, and stigma. 

Across the spectrum of gay and bisexual men and women, they were found to be:

  • Twice as likely to engage in heavy drinking 
  • Up to three times more likely to use illicit drugs (excluding marijuana)

This community also faces a higher risk of addiction, with approximately a third having some substance use disorder. 

LGBTQ+ Addiction Recovery

Understanding the unique mental health challenges of this community is a necessity for LGBTQ+ addiction recovery. Discrimination, harassment, fear, and stress are powerful psychological factors that may be fueling these drug-using behaviors and interfere with achieving lasting recovery. 

If you or a loved one is seeking addiction treatment, look for facilities that offer comprehensive and compassionate care and understand the LGBTQ+ experience. Here at Onyx Behavioral Health, we focus on practices encouraging acceptance to facilitate healing and evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Celebrate Pride Month Through Self-Care

By prioritizing your mental health, you not only address your personal needs but also contribute to the broader movement of destigmatizing mental health within the LGBTQ+ community. Pride Month is a reminder that embracing your self-worth is a powerful act of defiance against mental health stigma. Contact us today to begin your journey towards being your unapologetically authentic and sober self. 

Written by: Onyx Behavioral Health Admin

The Onyx Behavioral Health Editorial Team includes content experts that contribute to this online publication. Editors and mental health experts review our blogs carefully for accuracy and relevance. We reference authority organizations such as The National Institute of Mental Health and NAMI for the latest research, data, and news to provide our readers with the most up-to-date mental illness and recovery-related content.

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