COLUMN: Better mental health care helps queer and gender-nonconforming individuals

Mental health care needs to be available for the queer and gender-nonconforming community.

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Abigail Ruhman is a sophomore journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.

This column is part five of Abigail Ruhman’s “Twelve Gays of Christmas: The Sequel” series. Twelve Gays of Christmas is a 12-column series about a variety of LGBTQ topics. During the holidays, members of the LGBTQ community are more likely to experience depression. By informing readers of the issues facing the LGBTQ community, these columns are meant to support the community this holiday season. This year is the second year of this series and shows that even though it can seem like things are fine, there is still a lot of discrimination and challenges facing the LGTBQ community.

There is a certain power in knowing you are not alone. As cliche as it sounds, it’s true. That’s why Pride parades and celebrations mean so much. The idea that you can be yourself and theoretically no one will judge you, is freeing. However, when the final specks of body glitter fade into the real world, the queer and gender-nonconforming community still has problems it has to face every day.

With the stigma still associated with the community, individuals within the community are more than two times more likely to have a mental health condition, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Mental health issues and the LGBTQ experience are closely intertwined because of the challenges associated with being queer or gender-nonconforming. The emotional and mental labor of trying to figure out who may be violently homophobic also takes a toll.

Being queer or gender-nonconforming does not inherently make you more depressed or suicidal, but the community experiences extremely high rates of both. Almost half of transgender adults reported that they considered suicide in the past year in 2015. The societal responses to the queer and gender-nonconforming community create an environment that threatens its members’ mental health.

Anxiety and fear of rejection have a massive impact on mental health. The constant narrative of being disowned by family and friends for being queer or gender-nonconforming is painfully realistic, and it has a negative impact. While it doesn’t always happen, the genuine possibility that your family members could see the real you and turn their backs is emotionally damaging.

Even if it doesn’t happen, the time spent thinking that it could still impacts people emotionally. Considering the possibility that people you love won’t accept you is emotionally exhausting. Weighing the options for coming out, and creating back-up plans just to be safe is mentally draining.

The combined stigma of mental health issues and being queer or gender-nonconforming interacts in a way that discourages it from being a discussion. According to the Human Rights Campaign and the University of Connecticut, 95% of teens who are members of the community reported having trouble sleeping. This impacts their performance in school and other commitments.

These fears and reactions aren’t unjustified. While there has been social progress in recent years, close to 75% of teens in the community reported being verbally threatened because of their sexuality, according to the same study. Approximately half of transgender teens cited safety concerns as the reason they couldn’t use the restroom or locker room that matched their gender identity in school. Overall, only 26% of queer or gender-nonconforming teens said they felt safe in the classroom.

There is a reason the community is scared, and that fear and anxiety are impacting the mental health of the individuals within the community. Mental health is important and currently, the queer and gender-nonconforming community isn’t getting the mental health support it needs. Without proper support, the community is at risk of continuing down the dangerous path it is already on. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “LGBT youth receive poor quality of care due to stigma, lack of healthcare providers’ awareness and insensitivity to the unique needs of this community.” Despite having a high risk of mental health issues, the mental health field isn’t prepared to support them.

Mental health issues are serious and deserve attention. They are posing very real threats to the queer and gender-nonconforming community. Losing sleep, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts have an impact on the quality of life for the community. Mental health care access shouldn’t be viewed as something too big to ask for. The community needs support, and it is time that society works to provide access to it.

Edited by Bryce Kolk | bkolk@themaneater.com

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