Written by: Joelle Anderson, MA, RP, CCC
I’m going to write a little about LGBTQ+ people, stress and mental health. But first, I want to acknowledge that I am writing this as a cisgender, white female who has had a lot of privilege in my life. Therefore, my experience and knowledge surrounding this topic comes through my work with those (courageous!) souls who have lived such experiences, themselves. Ideally, more voices with first-hand experience, and who can represent the population much better than I, will replace my voice in these – and all – conversations about mental health. So please, I urge you to get in touch with myself ([email protected]) or the staff here at Cam’s Kids ([email protected]) if you have a voice to represent here, as I would be honoured to step back and elevate your voice!
Until then, let’s talk a bit about the additional stress that LGBTQ+ people often face and how this disproportionately affects mental health.
First, know this – any minority and/or oppressed group of people faces a disproportionate amount of stress and undue obstacles in their life.
More stress = a greater likelihood of mental health challenges.
In the world we live in today, this certainly applies to LGBTQ+ people (1,2). The stressors that LGBTQ+ people face are diverse and broad. Some common examples include the reality that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to endure:
LGBTQ+ people also have less representation in positions of power, and face systemic discrimination – making it more likely that they will:
For the LGBTQ+ population, a stressor can be as straight-forward as not having an appropriate place to go to the washroom when you really need to go (we’ve all been there once in a while, but imagine facing that all… the… time…). Or a stressor may be systemically impairing, such as being repeatedly overlooked for employment opportunities or promotions, or lacking civil rights under the law. A stressor can also be as deeply, intimately injurious as being forcefully kicked out of one’s home and left homeless – this is still all too common.
These are just some examples of the stressors (… ‘stressor’ is starting to feel like too light a word in this context…) that LGBTQ+ people are MUCH more likely to face than someone cisgender and heterosexual. And these stressors stack up, they layer – it’d be enough to break any of us down over time.
So, of course LGBTQ+ people are much more likely to experience anxiety, depression, PTSD or CPTSD, OCD, and/or to experience eating disorders, substance use issues, or engage in other forms of coping that sometimes go too far or become harmful. And, yes, the suicide rates among LGBTQ+ people remain distressingly, disproportionately high.
Yet, do not allow this to discount the reality that LGBTQ+ are also incredibly resourceful and resilient – both as individuals and as a community. LGBTQ+ people have found so many ways to cope with disproportionate and, often, discriminatory stressors. They often support one another as a community and have many strong allies. They are vocal and powerful in their advocacy against discrimination, for the LGBTQ+ community and other minority groups (for example, often serving as ardent supporters of Black Lives Matter!). And they have made significant progress regarding the discrimination, stressors and oppression that face minorities – even if there is still a lot of work to be done.
Never mistake stress or mental health with weakness – it is the strong that bear its burden.
So, why am I writing all of this today? Because we need to remember there is still so much more that needs to be done. We still do not see equality for LGBTQ+ people, and it’s affecting the psychological, emotional and physical well-being of so many amazing people within our communities. I write this because we need to be speaking about these issues, the issues that all Canadians – but especially minority and/or disadvantaged Canadians - face.
Let’s all do our part to support the strength and courage of these individuals, and to do what we can to reduce the stress and discrimination that they, and other groups, disproportionately face.
1. Canadian Mental Health Association. (2020). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Queer identified People and Mental Health. Canadian Mental Health Association website: https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/lesbian-gay-bisexual-trans-queer-identified-people-and-mental-health/
2. Mongelli, F., Perrone, D., Balducci, J., Sacchetti, A., Ferrari, S., Mattei, G., & Galeazzi, G. M. (2018). Minority stress and mental health among LGBT populations: an update on the evidence. Edizioni Minerva Medica, 60(1): 27-50. DOI: 10.23736/S0391-1772.18.01995-7