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What You Can Do to Support the Mental Health of LGBTQIA+ Loved Ones

June is a time of celebration for members of the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual, and Allies) community. This community represents a diverse range of identities and expressions of gender and sexual orientation. Members of this community also represent different races, religions, ethnicities, nationalities, and socioeconomic classes. It is important to understand the complexity of such varied experiences and perspectives because it can result in a strong sense of pride and resiliency.

But while being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community can be a source of strength, it can also bring unique challenges. Research shows that members of this community are at a higher risk for mental health conditions, particularly depression and anxiety. This means that, not only do these individuals have to confront stigma based on their gender identity or sexual orientation, but they also have to confront the stigma associated with mental health conditions.

Youth, in particular, are struggling. Results of the 2019 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey demonstrate the alarming disparities between LGBTQIA+ students and their cisgender/heterosexual peers.

  • In Pennsylvania, 17.4% of LGB students attempted suicide one or more times within the 12 months prior to the survey (compared with 6.3% of heterosexual students).

  • In Pennsylvania, students were 150% more likely to not go to school at least one day during the 30 days prior to the survey because of safety concerns (16.0% of LGB students compared with 6.4% of heterosexual students).

While these statistics paint a grim picture, families, friends, and allies can help! Here are five ways you can support the mental health of your LGBTQIA+ loved one.

  1. Respect their Identity
    You can take simple steps to respect the identity of your LGBTQIA+ loved one by affirming how they choose to live and using their chosen gender pronouns. This is especially true for transgender youths. A recent study showed that using their chosen name reduces depressive symptoms and overall suicidal risk. The risk reduction is even greater when the chosen name is used in multiple contexts such as at home, at school, at work, and among friends.
  2. Listen and Be Compassionate.
    Be compassionate of your loved one’s struggles. Listen when they want to share their story. A recent article by the American Academy of Pediatrics states, “Research has shown that if a transgender teen has even just one supportive person in their life, it greatly reduces their risk of suicide.”
  3. Learn About the Signs of Mental Illness
    Mental illness is complicated and difficult to understand, but knowledge will help you to be supportive.
  4. Create and Teach Awareness
    Be supportive of LGBTQIA+ individuals in public by addressing anti-LGBTQIA+ language and actions when you hear or see them. Support organizations and policies benefitting the LGBTQIA+ community.
  5. Support Your Loved One in Accessing Mental Health Resources
    Offer to help your loved one access mental health resources, especially resources that are sensitive to their unique challenges such as The Trevor Project, National Center for Transgender Equality, and LGBTQ National Help Center.

St. Luke’s Penn Foundation and St. Luke’s Psychiatric Associates provide welcoming and affirming care to members of the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as their families and loved ones. To learn more, visit www.PennFoundation.org.