Why We Need to Prioritize Quality Mental Health Care for LGBTQ Folks


Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Growing up, especially as a teenager, I fought against a plethora of self-destructive tendencies as I came to terms with my sexuality. My depression and anxiety were persistent and overwhelming, and throughout my teenage years, there were scattered instances when I almost took my own life.

Then there were the nights I disregarded the value of my existence — those nights are countless. There were the four hospitalizations for alcohol poisoning, the many mornings of waking up in vomit, the nights of getting home – or not getting home – and having absolutely no recollection of how I how I got there.

Looking back, these moments and behaviors terrify me. I am now overall happy and stable and I have come to love myself. I now treat my mental illness like a physical illness. I do not allow it to take over my life, but I take my self-care seriously, as I know the dire consequences should I not.

Like many people who struggle with mental illness, I felt utterly alone in the battles within my head, completely isolated in my illness. But as I got older, I learned beyond struggling with chronic depression, there was also a correlation between my struggles and my sexuality. LGBTQ people — especially teenagers — have much higher rates of suicide, suicide attempts and substance abuse than their peers.

LGBTQ Health Awareness Week ended a week and a half ago. The week aims to raise awareness about LGBTQ discrimination and disparity within the health care system. At a time in our country when accessible health care is at risk of moving backward – and the recently failed American Health Care Act (AHCA) explicitly threatened coverage for mental health and addiction services – mental health care for LGBTQ people needs to be a major part of this discussion. We cannot put enough emphasis on the importance of quality accessible mental health services for teens, particularly for those who identify as being LGBTQ.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), studies indicate the rate of substance abuse disorders among the LGBTQ community is between 20 and 30 percent, whereas the rate of substance abuse for the general population is closer to 9 percent.

According to the Trevor Project — the leading national organization in providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24 — suicide is the second leading cause of death for all young people ages 10 to 24 (accidents are the first). While their statistics state one out of six high school students nationwide seriously considered suicide in the past year, the rate of suicide attempts is four times greater for young LGB people and two times greater for questioning youth, than that of straight youth. Furthermore, the Trevor Project’s statistics show LGB youth are somewhere between four and six times more likely than their straight peers to have their suicide attempts result in injury, poisoning or overdose that requires medical treatment.

The suicide attempt rates for the transgender community is staggering. The Trevor Project’s statistics state 40 percent of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt and 92 percent of these individuals reported their suicide attempts happened before the age of 25.

Beyond providing support and services to the LGBTQ teens and youths themselves, these suicide and substance abuse rates can be lowered through societal change, as well. The Trevor Project’s statistics show rejection, bullying and abuse greatly exacerbate the likelihood of an LGBTQ young person resorting to self-harm or suicide. The Trevor project statistics state “LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection” and “Each episode of LGBTQ victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times, on average.”

We have to keep talking about these statistics, because they do not just reflect numbers. They tell the stories of real LGBTQ people in pain. As gay activist and journalist Dan Savage says, “It gets better,” but we all have to fight for progress to ensure this message stays true.

If you’re feeling suicidal, or just needs a safe place to talk, you can call the Trevor Lifeline at 866-488-7386.

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Thinkstock photo via Bet_Noire.

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