It’s easy to assume that now is a good time to be an LGBTQ individual in America. It has been more than a year since the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, 66% of Americans approve of same-sex relationships, which is a higher rate of approval than ever before. Mainstream culture has grown more accepting of LGBTQ artists, writers, and activists over the years. Even with the rise in hate crimes against minority individuals due to the Trump administration, there has been an outpouring of support for the LGBTQ community. These factors work together to create an illusion that everyone, everywhere can live the lives that they want and deserve when it comes to who they love.
Gabrielle Gladu tried to commit suicide at the age of fourteen, right before she entered high school. Over the years, Gabrielle had felt uncomfortable and disoriented with how masculine her body was, given how feminine she felt inside. Because she lived in an extremely conservative community, Gabrielle never really had access to information about LGBTQ individuals in her daily life. Her family, teachers, and friends were not very accepting of LGBTQ people, and growing up, her parents only mentioned the LGBTQ community with extremely negative connotations. Because of this, Gabrielle turned to the Internet, and to her surprise, found a community that was accepting of diverse sexuality and gender identities. Over the years, she slowly became more aware of the various possibilities for sexual attraction and gender identity. Gabrielle eventually ended up finding an identity that personally resonated with her, and came out as transgender to her friends and family, expecting the same support and acceptance that she experienced on the Internet. However, she was met with only rejection and shame. Her family never accepted her, and this alienation severely affected her mental health, which ultimately caused her to attempt suicide at such a young age.
Although Gabrielle was able to find a home with individuals that supported and loved her, for many LGBTQ individuals, this is often not the case. A study done by the CDC in 2016 showed significantly higher rates of depression in lesbian, gay, and bisexual teenagers. Over one-third of these individuals had been bullied in school over the past year, and almost half had considered suicide. About a third of these teenagers had attempted suicide in the last twelve months.
Higher rates of depression and suicidal thoughts are not just limited to young people in the LGBTQ community. Adults in the queer community are three times more likely to experience depression than their heterosexual counterparts. In a study done in the Journal of Homosexuality, there was substantial evidence for a highly elevated risk of suicidal ideation in LGBTQ individuals.
Despite the higher rates of depression and suicidal ideation in LGBTQ individuals, there has been relatively little attention and funding put into creating programs to improve mental health in the queer community. In 2001, the U.S. National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and the Institute of Medicine’s Reducing Suicide: A National Imperative reported gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals as an at-risk population, but provided little information about contributing factors to this epidemic. The study also did not address whether targeted interventions, prevention strategies or public health policies would be implemented to reduce suicide in this population. LGBTQ individuals with depression and suicidal ideation often face substantially more issues than their heterosexual counterparts due to the combined stigma that often comes with both their identity and mental illness. Traditional mental health counseling is sometimes not enough to address this multi-faceted issue. Although we have made significant progress towards breaking down the stigma and discrimination surrounding LGBTQ individuals, we are not at a point where the LGBTQ community feels completely equal and comfortable in our society. Until we get to that point, LGBTQ individuals will continue to experience harassment and stigma, and we need to be providing them with the resources they need to deal with the challenges they face.
Almeida, J., Johnson, R. M., Corliss, H. L., Molnar, B. E., & Azrael, D. (2009). Emotional Distress Among LGBT Youth: The Influence of Perceived Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38(7), 1001-1014. doi:10.1007/s10964-009-9397-9
Creating Safer Environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Youth and Families: Opportunities for School Mental Health Promotion. (2016). Mental Health Promotion in Schools, 131-155. doi:10.2174/9781681083230116020009
Haas, A., & Eliason, M. (2011). Suicide and suicide risk in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations: Review and recommendations. Journal of Homosexuality, 58(1), 10-51.
The New York Times. (2016, September 8). For Gay and Transgender Teens, Will It Get Better? The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/11/magazine/for-gay-and-transgender-teens-will-it-get-better.html