5 Ways to Support Your LGBTQ Loved One’s Mental Health
Members of the LGBTQ community have an increased risk of mental health issues as compared to heterosexual, cisgender people. Ongoing stigma, discrimination, lack of support, and other factors contribute to higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, and more. Loved ones of LGBTQ individuals have a big role to play in supporting their mental health. With acceptance, allyship, healthy socializing, and appropriate treatment, family and friends can help their loved ones prevent, manage, and overcome mental illness.
Good mental health is important for everyone. Some people have more risk factors for mental illness. This includes members of the LGBTQ community.
If someone you care about has come out, be aware of the risks and know how to support their good mental health.
Facts About LGBTQ Identity and Mental Health
If you have a loved one who identifies with this community, it’s first important to recognize the issue. Mental health is important for everyone, and no one is immune to mental illness or symptoms. However, people who identify as LGBTQ have this added risk factor for mental health challenges.
- Adults who identify as LGBTQ are more than twice as likely to have a mental illness as those who are heterosexual.
- LGBTQ individuals who have experienced discrimination have higher rates of mental health conditions, substance use disorders, and suicidal behaviors.
- LGBTQ teens have higher rates of depression than their peers and are more likely to feel suicidal and to attempt suicide.
- Among LGBTQ adults, nearly half report having considered suicide within the past year. This rate is just 4% in the general population.
- Transgender individuals are almost four times more likely to have a mental health condition as compared to cisgender people.
The facts of being LGBTQ and being at a greater risk for mental health issues are well established. To help someone who struggles with these challenges, it is also necessary to understand the reasons. There are several factors involved: stigma, rejection, discrimination, shame and fear, and adverse events that can be traumatic.
What You Can Do Now to Support Someone You Love
Once you know about the problem, you can be proactive. If you have a loved one, either a friend or a family member, who is part of this community, what you do and say makes a difference. They face a world that has not fully accepted them for who they are. Imagine what that feels like and try to empathize. Support them intentionally, with both words and actions.
1. Reflect on Your Own Thoughts and Biases.
You love this individual, but do you fully accept who they are? Do you hold onto stigma and bias? The first step in being there for someone you care about is to reflect on and evaluate your own thoughts and perceptions.
Be honest with yourself and consider whether or not you say or do anything that implies your acceptance is incomplete or conditional. Take a critical look at what you say and do. It’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s essential to recognize them so you can do better.
For example, you love and have accepted your adult son who came out as gay. Do you still hold onto the assumption that he may not give you grandkids simply because he’s gay? Do you show him that you are disappointed by this? It may seem minor, but this assumption and attitude is hurtful and also unfounded.
A big part of being supportive is challenging your own negative thoughts and also educating yourself. Read up on the LGBTQ community and identities to learn more and find out which of your assumptions and perceptions are still false and potentially damaging.
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2. Acknowledge and Respect Your Loved One’s Identity.
When a loved one comes out to you, it can come as a shock. You may be tempted to sweep it under the rug and avoid talking about it. What your loved one really needs, though, is full acceptance and acknowledgment.
Mental health issues can fester in silence. You may continue to treat your loved one the same as before, but by failing to truly acknowledge how they identify you are passively rejecting them. Affirm, accept, and respect what they have to say about their identity.
As an example of how important this is, researchers have found that simple affirmations of identity can be life-saving. A study found that when the people around them use their chosen pronouns and names, transgender youth have lower suicide rates. This simple act of acknowledgement and respect for their identity is powerful.
3. Stick Up for Them.
Being supportive and accepting is not enough. Other people will inevitably mistreat your loved one for being LGBTQ. They may experience harassment, bullying, discrimination, and even assault or abuse. You cannot be fully supportive without stepping in and speaking up for someone treated this way. Doing so shows your loved one that you care and that they are not alone.
Use both words and action to back up your loved one. Challenge other people’s negative words. Advocate for your loved one when they experience discrimination. Be there physically to support your loved one in challenging situations.
This doesn’t mean taking risks that could harm you or your loved one. Know when to back away and when to intervene. If someone is shouting abuse, for instance, you may need to walk away or call the police for more help. You can stand up for your loved one while still being safe.
4. Encourage a Healthy Social Life.
Having an identity that doesn’t fit into what is considered “normal” can be isolating. This is especially true if your loved one lives in a community where acceptance or even acknowledgement of LGBTQ identities is limited.
Help your loved one engage in healthy, supportive social circles. Find local organizations for LGBTQ people and their allies. These local groups hold events that are safe and provide opportunities to connect and make friends. If these opportunities are limited in your area, help your loved one find online support groups and social groups.
Healthy socializing is important for good mental health. It does not have to be limited to LGBTQ groups. Encourage your loved one to hang out with family and friends, of all identities, to benefit from the support of the community.
5. Help Your Loved One Get Mental Health Treatment.
Effective mental health treatment is so important for anyone who struggles with mental illness or mental health symptoms. Your loved one does not have to have a diagnosis of depression or anxiety disorder to benefit. Because they are at an increased risk for mental health challenges, getting good treatment at any time is helpful.
If your loved one already struggles with a mental illness, getting treatment is especially necessary. It can also feel overwhelming, so step in and offer to help. Do some research on treatment options and help them choose a therapist or treatment facility. Provide solutions to any barriers to getting treatment, like childcare or financial support.
Look for treatment centers and providers with experience working with LGBTQ patients. Unfortunately, not all members of the mental health community have the appropriate training to help this population. They may have their own biases or may lack education about LGBTQ issues.
These are just the basics when it comes to supporting an LBGTQ loved one who may be struggling. Any way that you can show love, support, and simple acceptance will go a long way toward helping them manage difficult feelings. The more people they have on their side, the easier it will be to face the lingering stigma and everything that comes with it.