Young adults participating in group therapy.

Addressing Mental Health Issues in the LGBTQ+ Community

Whether it’s for a short period, or a longer battle, it’s no secret that everyone struggles with their mental health from time to time. However, many people may be unfamiliar with how prevalent conditions such as anxiety and/or depression are in the LGBTQ+ community.

Continue reading this blog to learn more about mental health issues in the LGBTQ+ Community and how those struggling can find the proper support.

How Relevant Are Mental Health Issues in the LGBTQ+ Community?

An important part of learning how to help support the LGBTQ+ community and their struggles with mental health is to understand the impact it has on their lives.

Half of US adults will experience struggles with mental health at some point in their life. Whether these experiences have short or long-term effects depends heavily on the individual and their surroundings.

According to several surveys for LGBTQ+ young adults from the Trevor Project:

  • 41% of LBGTQ+ young adults seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.
  • 56% of LGBTQ+ young adults who wanted mental health care in the past year were not able to get it.
  • Fewer than 40% of LGBTQ+ young adults found their home to be LGBTQ+-affirming.
  • Nearly  1 in 3 LGBTQ+ young adults said their mental health was poor most of the time or always due to anti-LGBTQ+ policies and legislation.
  • Nearly 2 in 3 LGBTQ+ young adults said that hearing about potential state or local laws banning people from discussing LGBTQ+ people at school made their mental health a lot worse.

Another survey on young LGBTQ+ adults found those who experienced high levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide.

Note: If anyone is having suicidal thoughts, they should get help immediately. Contact the suicide hotline for assistance, or call Malvern Behavioral Health (610-480-8919). We have staff available 24/7 to assist someone feeling depressed or having unsafe thoughts.

Many people that are part of the LGBTQ+ community feel as though they live in a world that is unsafe for them, or is actively working to reject them. As a result, they can become prone to issues with their mental health and well-being.

Mental Health Struggles Among LGBTQ+ Young Adults

Mental health disorders can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, or gender orientation. However, mental health professionals have found that certain groups can be more prone to developing specific conditions.

Young adults, in particular, struggle with many different mental health conditions from mood disorders to personality disorders. Similarly, young adults who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community will find themselves experiencing disorders such as:

Co-occurring disorders are also known to be prevalent within the young adult (or LGBTQ+) community. These disorders are classified by the coexistence of a mental health concern such as those listed above, and a substance use concern, including but not limited to:

Co-occurring disorders can be complex and intense. While they are best supported by a professional, it’s also helpful to be aware of these influences on our emotional well-being so we can build and maintain a healthy lifestyle and mindset.

Below, we explore environmental stressors that may affect a person’s ability to feel emotionally and physically safe and sustain a healthy state of mind.

Woman comforting young adult struggling with anxiety.

4 Factors That May Contribute to a Decline in Mental Health

There are a number of factors that affect a person’s mental health, and finding a definitive reason is often difficult. This is why it’s important for individuals who are struggling to seek help from a professional.

Below, we’ve listed some of the common factors that may play a role in an individual’s mental and emotional state.

1. Bullying

Bullying can happen at home, school, or other public places, in-person or virtually, and often leads to young children and adults in the community feeling alienated and the target of verbal/physical harassment.

2. Unsafe Environment

An individual may feel unsafe if they are surrounded by family or friends who have unhealthy ways of interacting or expressing emotion. Especially if they express bias or prejudiced attitudes towards those in the LGBTQ+ community.

This can include a wide range of behaviors ranging from explosive outbursts of anger to being dismissive. Feeling seen, validated, and accepted by those around us plays a key role in someone experiencing emotional safety. For those going through the natural process of identity development, the lack of a safe support group (as well as rejection or maladaptive behaviors) could be damaging.

3. Isolation

Especially during events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals may feel as though they lack resources or support. People need human interaction, and a lack of that can have a lasting impact on them.

4. Rejection

Sometimes, people may be rejected by their friends and loved ones when coming out due to their gender orientation. The experience of coming out to others can be an important time in a person’s life, and rejection of their identity can be devastating.

Having a strong support system that is accepting is very important, especially for those navigating their identity or struggling with mental health or co-occurring concerns.

When to Seek Substance Abuse Treatment for Young LGBTQ+ Individuals

As previously stated, co-occurring disorders are known to be on the rise for all individuals struggling with their mental health, regardless of sexual and gender orientation.

Recent studies show that this trend is consistent in the LGBTQ+ population, as substance use concerns rise within the LGBTQ+ community as well.

The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that approximately 21.8% of sexual minority adults had an alcohol use disorder in the past year compared to 11.0% in the overall population.

The same study stated that approximately 6.7% of sexual minority adults in 2020 misused opioids (prescription opioids or heroin use) in the past year, compared to 3.6% of the overall adult population.

Recognizing the warning signs of someone who may be struggling with addiction or substance abuse is critical in knowing when to contact a treatment provider.

When thinking about whether someone is struggling with addiction or substance abuse, an individual can look out for these common warning signs:

  • Neglecting personal health, such as refusing to eat or have proper hygiene.
  • Isolating from friends and family for long periods of time.
  • Changes in mood/behavior and partaking in reckless/risky behaviors.
  • Excessive worrying/stressing over small things or a lack of care for them.

Specialized treatment programs for young adults and/or the LGBTQ+ community have shown significantly higher success rates compared to non-specialized programs.

Malvern Behavioral Health offers an unparalleled, evidence-based experience through its Wisteria Program for the LGBTQ+ community, and its  Sage Program for those suffering from co-occurring disorders.

Young adult struggling with anxiety and depression in therapy.

How to Practice Mental Health Coping Skills

There are many paths that lead to recovery and a solid foundation of self-care outside of an inpatient treatment setting.

There are a few ways an individual can practice mental health coping skills on their own. These simple yet effective techniques have been proven to help people improve their mental health and well-being.

Embrace Healthy Eating & Staying Active

Taking care of oneself on a regular basis is crucial to a person’s mental state. For example, consistently eating a healthy and balanced diet can positively affect someone’s mental and physical health.

Similarly, abstaining from alcohol, drugs, or other unhealthy substances is an important practice if someone is feeling anxious, depressed, or struggling with other changes in mood.

Exercising is also beneficial for the mind and body. It doesn’t have to be a daunting workout, we encourage individuals to find what works best for them.

Whether it be going for a run or joining a gym/yoga program, as long as someone is getting their body moving, they will notice a difference in their mental health. Staying active doesn’t only help a person stay in shape physically, but it also acts as an outlet for releasing stress, anxiety, or other negative emotions.

Practice Meditation & Breathing

Meditation and breathing exercises are great ways for an individual to practice body awareness and calming techniques should they find themselves spiraling or in need of grounding.

Practicing mindfulness helps individuals reduce stress and anxiety by organizing their thoughts and increasing their awareness of their physical condition.

Looking for an easy breathing exercise? Try the 4-7-8 technique.

Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds.

Repeat this approximately ten times, and be sure to take a break for at least a minute before starting another set.

Use a Journal

Bottling up negative emotions or intrusive thoughts can increase stress, anxiety, and depression. However, sometimes a person may feel too scared or ashamed to share how they are feeling with the people around them.

By using a journal, people are able to express their thoughts and feelings without the fear of sharing too much. Writing in their own words, for themselves, gives them time to process the emotions before talking through the next steps.

Explore a Hobby

Hobbies can give individuals a safe space to release stress and express their creativity. . Having a hobby gives a person something to look forward to throughout their day or week. These activities can be anything that sparks interest and is a healthy outlet, such as:

  • Drawing or painting
  • Playing or listening to music
  • Singing or Dancing
  • Knitting or Sewing
  • Baking or cooking
  • Reading or writing

Setting aside at least an hour for a hobby or activity will ensure someone has something to break up their busy or stressful day.

Set a Daily Goal For Yourself

While it may seem insignificant, setting small goals helps motivate individuals to accomplish at least one thing each day.

These goals can be anything from seeing a family member or a friend to running an errand. No matter how insignificant it may feel when we reward ourselves for even the smallest tasks, we are giving ourselves a reason to try again or do more the next day.

Finding Support for LGBTQ+ Individuals

There are other long-term and effective approaches to explore when looking for more extensive support. A few of these different approaches include:

Note: It’s imperative that no person should use prescription medications without being under the care of a mental health professional. ALL medications prescribed for mental health require prescriptions and could have various side effects. Make sure to contact your primary care doctor or a mental health professional for more information about any prescription medications.

Individuals who are struggling should talk to a supportive friend, family member, school counselor, doctor, or another person they can trust.

For other support systems and outlets, check out these online communities and local organizations:

Looking for legal information and assistance?  Learn more at the Transgender Law Center.

Group of young adults holding hands during a therapy session.

Finding the right support from a professional is important for anyone within the LGBTQ+ community struggling with a mental health issue. If you or someone you know needs help, our Wisteria Program today.