The LGBTQ Community and Anxiety and Depression
Mental health is different for everyone, but there are particularly unique experiences in the LGBTQ community that position its members to experience greater levels of depression and anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, LGBTQ depression and anxiety is 1.5 to 2.5 percent more prevalent than the same disorders among the heterosexual, gender-conforming population.
Many people who aren’t part of the LGBTQ community do not fully understand the experiences and circumstances that place individuals at a greater risk of mental illness. Stigma and fear of rejection also cause many “out members” to mask the depth of their feelings and mental health symptoms. In order to create a more inclusive society rooted in understanding, Caring Heart Counseling wishes to help communities, friends and family members understand the unique mental health experiences and needs of LGBTQ people.
Social Conditioning and Depression
From a very early age, children are exposed to both subvert and overt messages that allow them to build concepts of how a man or woman should be. They learn in movies, books and even through their own eye witnesses what love “should” look like. These mental concepts are called schema, and they form the framework of how a person goes on to interpret themselves and others.
Unfortunately, the narrative surrounding LGBTQ people has been grossly stereotyped. The gay man has always been ultra-feminine and sassy, a caricature that people come to expect from someone who comes out as gay. Transgender people are expected to “pass” fully and meet a certain set of physical criteria before others accept their identity, as if they are only okay with someone being trans if they look like a cisgender male or female.
A person who finds that their same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria do not align with their society’s expectations is more likely to experience feelings of inferiority, rejection and isolation that lead to clinical depression.
Living With Anxiety as an LGBTQ Person
The same messages that someone internalizes as a child can become their source of anxiety later in life. The fear that they are not good enough, that they’re “different” and flawed cause many LGBTQ people to develop general and social anxiety disorders. Rejection, discrimination and prejudices from communities can also lead to a threat response that causes LGBTQ people to fear everyday situations and interactions with other people.
A person who lives as LGBTQ might place extreme burdens on themselves to meet other people’s expectations. They may feel like they have to “prove” their good enough to be loved and accepted as if their sexuality or gender identity is a mark against them. Many people might listen to these concerns, but they aren’t often qualified or educated enough on the LGBTQ experience to provide the level of support someone needs to heal.
How Therapy Can Help
Therapy is one way to overcome depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses within the framework of being LGBTQ. At Caring Heart Counseling, we do not view your sexuality or gender identity as being a cause of any mental health symptoms. Your identity is not the problem, but it can be influencing your perception, impacting your relationships and negatively impacting how you see yourself.
An accepting, educated therapist can provide the compassionate support and understanding you need to benefit from therapy. If you would like to learn more, please contact us anytime or request an appointment.
How to Support Your LGBTQ Friends
If your friend is part of the LGBTQ community, you likely want to show them all the love and support in the world. Whether you’ve always known or they recently came out, acknowledging and celebrating their identity is a great way to be a good ally. Sometimes, people who aren’t familiar with LGBTQ identities inadvertently offend their friends. They might go over the top with their support to the point it dehumanizes their friend or embarrasses them; they might tell them that being gay or transgender “doesn’t matter”, which unintentionally dismisses a core part of their life.
This guide will help you be a more supportive friend and create a more inclusive and accepting world for everyone.
Learn About Their Experience
Be open minded and willing to listen to your friend’s evolving experience as an LGBTQ individual. What have been their greatest sources of pride? What are their biggest challenges and fears? You can support your friend solely by being present and listening. You don’t need to fully understand their experience to be supportive. Just the act of being there can give your friend a much-needed sense of acceptance that so many LGBTQ people go without.
Do Not Sexualize Them
Your friend’s gender identity and sexual orientation are not oddities; as individuals, they are not educators or responsible for answering any and all questions you have about how sex and love works for someone who isn’t cisgender or heterosexual. Although you might genuinely be asking from a harmless position of curiosity, asking your friend questions about their sex life can dehumanize them and deny their body autonomy.
You also don’t want to imply through your questioning that there’s a right or wrong way to be intimate. Sex looks different for everyone, and it is a personal matter that isn’t immediately open to discussion just because someone identifies as LGBTQ.
Find Good Resources to Help Them
LGBTQ people are more likely to experience mental illness, prejudice and discrimination. Even as full-fledged adults with careers and a good support system, they may carry wounds from a non-supportive family or bad experiences from the past. You can help them by educating yourself and knowing what resources to direct them to if they ever need help. Local therapists and support groups that offer LGBTQ services can provide a safe space that’s understanding of your friend’s experiences and needs.
You can also educate yourself on some of the warning signs of poor mental health in your friend; identifying issues and reaching out to them when things are difficult can be life-saving.
How Talk Therapy Can Be Helpful for Your LGBTQ Teen
If your child has recently come out to you as being transgender or non-binary, you might be panicking and wondering how to support them through the next chapter of their life. Coming out at any age takes tremendous courage, and your child might still be feeling anxious and afraid about what this realization means for them.
Seeking out ways to support your child through this time already shows how much you love them. Although you may not know what to say or do in this moment, know that the most valuable thing you can offer your child is love and acceptance. To help you continue to provide as much support as possible, we have put together several therapist-approved strategies.
Learn About Gender Identity
Gender and sex are not the same thing, and this is often the biggest misconception and point of confusion for parents whose child has just come out. Sex is a biological fact, but gender is a social construct that is generally comprised as “masculine” or “feminine.” When your child does not feel like the gender they were assigned at birth, they may decide that they want to live as the opposite, in which case they would be transgender. Non-binary gender, on the other hand, encompasses a wide range of gender expressions that may nor may not relate to someone’s sex.
You can learn more about gender, transgender and non-binary experiences through sites like the National Center for Trans Equality, the Trans Youth Equality Foundation, and the American Psychological Association.
Rather than ask your child, “Why do you want to be ____?”, you can speak with them about their feelings and thoughts. This process can help you understand them while allowing them to vocalize emotions they have likely been struggling with alone for a long time. Questions are only questions; expressing a desire to understand your child’s feelings, rather than putting them in a defensive position, shows you care about their mental health and experience as a transgender or non-binary person.
Accept the Answers Your Child Doesn’t Have Yet
Just because your child comes out does not mean they fully understand what they want to do next. Transitioning takes time, and the timeline is different for everyone. Ask your child what steps they’d like to take next. Do they have a name they would like to go by? Would they like to start wearing clothes that are better aligned with their identity? They might not fully know what they want to do yet, and that’s okay. Both of you can move forward at your own pace. There is no rush.
Allow Yourself to Accept and Even Grieve
You can accept your child unconditionally and still feel a loss over who you thought they were. Your hopes and dreams for their future are different, and it’s natural to feel confusion and even pain about their transition. Siblings will also need time to understand and adjust to your child’s new identity. But no matter what their sexuality or gender, your child is still the same person. Their incredible personality, sense of humor, aspirations and strengths do not change based on who they love or what gender they identify as.
However, it is still important to acknowledge the importance of their decision to come out. Being transgender or non-binary doesn’t define a person, but it is a large part of who they are and how they see themselves and their place in the world.
Get Help Together
Counseling for LGBTQ can help you support your child while addressing any difficult thoughts, feelings or fears you have about their transition. Children can work with a counselor to address their changing needs and mental health including problems common among transgender and non-binary youth. We also offer family counseling that helps the entire family adjust to the change and be as supportive and accepting as possible.
How Talk Therapy Can Be Helpful for Your LGBTQ Teen
For many LGBTQ teens, feeling safe and open to discussing their often conflicting feelings is difficult. Mental illness affects teens in the LGBTQ community at a much higher rate than their cisgender, heterosexual peers; LGBTQ teens are six times more likely to experience depression and four times more likely to have thoughts about suicide or self-harm. The most concerning statistic is for those whose families reject their identity. LGBTQ teens from non-supportive families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than those whose families are accepting of their identities.
You only want what’s best for your child, but you may not know how to handle their emotions and unique experiences as an LGBTQ individual. Whether they are questioning their gender or sexuality, recently came out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, it’s critical for them to feel like they are loved, supported and whole exactly as they are, no matter who they love, what their pronouns are or who they wish to become in the future.
Talk therapy for LGBTQ teens takes both age and experience into account. The mental health of teenagers is already characterized by unique challenges, including struggles with body image, self-esteem and identity. When a teenager is also facing other challenges related to their sexuality or gender, it can have a compounding effect on their mental health. In therapy, they will be able to gain support, guidance and acceptance while learning how to cope with any underlying mental health issues they are experiencing.
Cope With Prejudice and Bullying
LGBTQ teens are twice as likely as their peers to experience bullying, violence and sexual assault. Learning how to recognize the warning signs of an abusive relationship, setting boundaries and building resilience are all topics that can be covered in therapy. Some teens may feel more comfortable discussing situations with a third party than with their parents. Rather than forcing them to open up about experiences with their family, a therapist allows them to work through feelings in a safe space and reveal things on their own terms.
Build a Good Self-Esteem
When a teenager feels like their sexuality or gender is different than what they consider “normal,” they’re more likely to suffer from low self-esteem. They might feel like they are broken or damaged because of who they are attracted to or how they see themselves. In transgender teens, body dysphoria can also trigger depression and self-loathing.
Part of a therapist’s job is to help every client see the inherent value in themselves regardless of where they currently are in life or what struggles they are facing. For an LGBTQ teen, this means building a solid foundation of positive self-talk and personal regard that they can rely on as they grow.
Treat Mental Health Issues
Because LGBTQ youth are more likely to experience mental illness, therapy is always beneficial to assess their current mental health. Most mental illnesses present themselves before age 14, but far too few are ever addressed during adolescence. By participating in talk therapy, your teen can get help for any psychological symptoms they’re experiencing and prevent them from worsening in the future.
Therapy helps teens let go of judgement and recognize the value in their identity. Different forms of talk therapy can be used depending on their needs, including cognitive-behavioral, emotionally-focused, and body-centered approaches. If you are interested in learning more about our services or scheduling a virtual or in-person counseling appointment for your teen, contact Caring Heart Counseling or request an appointment today.