I will never forget that day for as long as I live. I had just finished working with one of my patients, and headed down to the hospital cafe to grab a snack and relax for a few minutes, before my next patient. The work of a medical interpreter can be intense at times, but it often has some downtime throughout the day. I always enjoyed taking a quick break at the cafe, maybe grabbing some coffee or tea and a muffin in between one patient and another. Many times I would have to either chug down or throw out the rest of my beverage and shove the muffin in my bag when I would get a call for an extra last-minute patient, but in most cases, I could take a seat and eat my snack in peace. That was one of those days. I walked into the cafe sitting area where I normally watch about 10 or 15 minutes of some daytime show on the TV, but this time it wasn’t Steve Harvey, Ellen, or The View that was on. I knew what I saw on TV that day would be something I would proudly tell my children and grandchildren about someday. On June 26th, 2015 the bottom of the TV screen read
“ABC News Special Report LIVE – Supreme court rules states are required to allow same-sex couples to marry”
I was witnessing history.
It was a truly special moment. I remember feeling overwhelmed with pride and excitement for all the couples, all over the country, who finally would have their love validated by law. I imagine that a more cynical person could wonder what difference does that make in my life, since I live in Massachusetts (where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2004) and I am a straight person? The answer to that question is: no difference at all. It does not make any difference whatsoever, in my life, personally whether same-sex marriage is legal in the entire country (and by the way, the same logic applies for those straight people who are opposed to same-sex marriage – it doesn’t directly impact your life at all). Does that mean I don’t care whether LGBTQ+ people can get married? Of course I care! I know, it may be a mind-blowing concept for some, actually caring about something that does not directly impact your life in any way, mind-boggling I know. But yes, I did care about same-sex marriage being legalized, just like I do care about the rights of LGBTQ+ people. It’s called being an ally. It’s also, at the very least, called being a good human being.
It does not make any difference whatsoever, in my life, personally whether same-sex marriage is legal in the entire country. Does that mean I don’t care? Of course I care!
After taking a much needed break from writing, and producing content during most of the quarantine this year, (you can read my post on How Quarantine Helped My Mental Health) this past week I started feeling creative again, and since it’s pride month I wanted to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. I’m a mental health advocate, so I decided to learn more about LGBTQ+ mental health. I was familiar with some of the struggles that this community faces, and figured there were sure effects on their mental health, but I had no idea to what extent. What I learned broke my heart and made me even more passionate about raising awareness for LGBTQ+ mental health.
LGBT individuals around the world face many health disparities linked to societal stigma, discrimination, and denial of their civil and human rights. Do you think that if your very identity wasn’t valued by society and many of your human rights were denied, that would have some type of emotional or psychological effect on you? I think yes. Members of the LGBTQ+ community have a higher risk of developing substance abuse and psychiatric disorders in great part as a result of the discrimination they suffer.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community have a higher risk of developing substance abuse and psychiatric disorders in great part as a result of the discrimination they suffer.
As human beings, we are wired to live in community and seek acceptance from that community in order to survive. When a person is denied acceptance from their community (and that can mean society in general, their social circle or their family of origin) that can have severe effects on their development, self esteem and mental health. That is a reality that many LGBTQ+ people live with everyday. That can take a huge toll on their emotional well-being and even pose a risk to their personal safety. Research shows that LGBTQ+ individuals are 3 times more likely to develop a mental health condition and 2.5 times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
First off, let’s do a quick overview of why people resort to drug use or alcohol abuse. There are many factors that contribute to drug or alcohol abuse, but one of the main reasons people engage in that type of behavior is as a way to medicate their emotional struggles. Some use it as a way to cope with stress, depression, anxiety or a variety of untreated (sometimes undiagnosed) mental illnesses. Since members of the LGBTQ+ community are statistically more susceptible to emotional distress and mental health issues, they have a higher risk of developing addiction issues.
Considering that data, it means that about 2.5 million LGBTQ+ americans struggle with alcohol abuse and 2-3 million LGBTQ+ americans struggle with substance abuse. That’s a lot of people. A lot.
Just so we have a better understanding of what that means in comparison to the general population, I got some numbers here for you. It is estimated that about 5-10% of the general population in the United States abuses alcohol. Inside the LGBTQ+ community, that number goes up to 25%. That does not stop at alcohol. Research shows that only about 9% of the general population abuses substances. That number skyrockets to 20-30% within the LGBTQ+ community. Back in 2017 it was estimated that about 10 million Americans identified as LGBTQ+. Considering that data, it means that about 2.5 million LGBTQ+ americans struggle with alcohol abuse and 2-3 million LGBTQ+ americans struggle with substance abuse. That’s a lot of people. A lot.
I tend to start a sentence with “as a mental health advocate” to explain why I care about certain things, but for this one, I must say, I don’t care about those numbers just because I am a mental health advocate. I care about this because I am a person. As a human being, these statistics sadden me. Knowing that so many people are suffering feels heartbreaking and helpless. While learning about this, I thought about how there are clearly a whole lot of people who need help, so there must be an easy way for them to access treatment, right? Apparently not so much.
…I must say, I don’t care about those numbers just because I am a mental health advocate. I care about this because I am a person. As a human being, these statistics sadden me.
As it turns out getting treatment is not as easy for LGBTQ+ people as one would hope. During my research I came across this horrifying data: approximately 8 percent of LGBTQ individuals and nearly 27 percent of transgender individuals report being denied needed health care outright. Wait, what? Denied health care? People are being denied health care? According to a survey of LGBTQ+ people, more than half reported having faced cases of providers using discriminatory language, suggesting a patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity as being the cause of an illness or outright denying them care.This is actually happening and I had no idea. I’ve worked in the medical field for the last five years, and I had no idea this was happening. Research shows that nearly 30 percent of transgender people reported postponing or avoiding medical care when they were sick or injured, due to discrimination and disrespect, and over 30% did not attempt to get preventative care. These are people who are suffering, and they end up facing discrimination even when seeking medical care, to the point that they either are denied care or avoid trying to get help altogether. It’s outrageous and incredibly disappointing.
To make matters worse, higher risk of mental illness, poor medical care and addiction are not the only issues threatening the lives of LBGTQ+ people in our country. If you’re a full grown adult, I ask you to think back to your teenage years. For many people, this was not the easiest time in their lives. A lot of us feel awkward, lack confidence and our hormones being completely out of whack definitely doesn’t help matters, but most of us end up making it through that time. That however, isn’t always the case for LGBTQ+ teens who are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide, have suicidal thoughts and engage in self harm than straight teens. In the transgender community, the rate of people who experience suicidal ideation is staggering at 38-65%! These issues are taking people’s lives.
I can’t help but feel like we are failing the LGBTQ+ community in countless ways, especially when it comes to mental health. Besides the discrimination this community faces when seeking medical care, stigma, lack of cultural sensitivity, and unconscious and conscious reluctance to address sexuality may hamper effectiveness of mental health care as well. Although we’re still far from having successfully addressed all these issues in our society, not all hope is lost.
Twenty two U.S. states have passed laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ+ patients. Less than half of U.S. states is still a stunningly low amount, in my opinion, especially because out of those 22, only 14 also prohibit discrimination specifically based on a person’s gender identity. In these states, one cannot be refused medical care based on their sexuality or gender identity. Unfortunately not all providers follow the law, although many gay rights groups do challenge health care providers that refuse treatment based on a patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This means that although there are laws in place, there are not nearly enough protections for LGBTQ+ medical rights and some are still being stripped.
Earlier this month the federal government finalized a regulation that will erase protections for transgender patients against discrimination by doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies. This rule is part of a broad effort by the current administration, to narrow the legal definition of sex discrimination so that it does not include protections for transgender people. Besides there not being enough laws currently in place to protect the medical rights of a community who is already more vulnerable than the general population, some of these laws are actively being removed. This is happening in 2020. The fight is far from over.
Earlier this month the federal government finalized a regulation that will erase protections for transgender patients against discrimination by doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies. This is happening in 2020. The fight is far from over.
So, why should you or I care? Well, if you’re LGBTQ+ you should definitely care because we’re talking about your rights, your well-being and your mental health. If you’re not LGBTQ+, there is a chance that you may know someone who is, whose rights are being threatened and who might be struggling with their mental health and emotional well-being. But I have to say, I don’t care about these issues only because I have family members and friends who are LGBTQ+. Of course they are people I personally know and care about and I don’t want to see their rights being stripped, and I want them to have access to treatment if they are struggling. I also care about LGBTQ+ rights because I’m about to have my first child, and if she is LGBTQ+ I want her to have love, support, acceptance, the right to proper medical care, and access to mental health treatment if she needs.
But even if you don’t know a single person who is part of the LGBTQ+ community, if you yourself aren’t nor any of your children or loved ones are, you should still care. Why? Because these issues are not just LGBTQ+ issues, they are human rights issues.
But even if you don’t know a single person who is part of the LGBTQ+ community, if you yourself aren’t nor any of your children or loved ones are, you should still care. Why? Because these issues are not just LGBTQ+ issues, they are human rights issues. You should care about other human beings, who are suffering, whose rights are actively being taken away and who are losing their lives because of it. You should care. I plan on teaching my child to care about other human beings whether they are different from her or not, simply because they are human beings. That’s why I care, and you should too.
https://www.mhanational.org/issues/lgbtq-communities-and-mental-healthhttps://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-choice/201711/7-common-reasons-why-people-use-drugs https://www.thedailybeast.com/just-how-many-lgbt-americans-are-there https://news.gallup.com/poll/201731/lgbt-identification-rises.aspx https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/12/us/politics/trump-transgender-rights.html https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/1557-final-rule.pdf