Understanding special issues facing LGBT people.
July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, and in Atlanta, the Health Initiative is teaming up with the DeKalb County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness to bring awareness to LGBT people about resources available.
LGBT people with bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder or chronic depression not only face stigma not only because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, but also because of their mental illness.
“The double stigma of being GLBT and having a mental illness limits our access to resources and support. Not many can provide specialized care I think our community needs and this is a great disservice,” says Alisa Porter, marketing director of NAMI DeKalb.
“We’re not mentally ill because we are gay, but because various factors impact our lives,” she adds.
Arlene Noriega, a psychologist who has studied LGBT and mental health issues, is in private practice and works with adolescents and adults who identify as LGBT as well as gender nonconforming children, and also works with the Latino population.
She says sexual minorities are two and a half times more likely than non-LGBT people to have attempted suicide.
“Studies show that the transgender population risk for suicide attempts is significantly high. Some studies have found that sexual minority women are at a higher risk for substance abuse disorders while sexual minority men are at a higher risk for suicidal attempts,” Noriega says.
Chronic, persistent stress related to stigmatization and marginalization due to sexual orientation and gender identity is known as “minority stress,” she says.
When we don’t acknowledge this discrimination there is an increase in negative health and mental health consequences, she says. The discrimination can be overt, such as family rejection as adolescents, sexual and physical abuse, and hate crimes.
“However, the discrimination can also be subtle and these are known as microagressions, which LGBT individuals encounter in their everyday lives, such as someone using heterosexist or transphobic terms, such as fag, dyke or she-male, or when an LGBT person is told ‘not to act so gay,’” Noriega explains.
One of the best ways to help people get the help they need is to erase stigma, she says.
“We need to understand that the mental health issues seen in the LGBT population as a result of minority stress are normal ways of responding to abnormal environmental stressors when our coping is depleted,” she says. “We need to address people’s isolation and secrecy around mental health issues through public education.”
The Health Initiative and NAMI DeKalb are joining forces to bring awareness to LGBT people about mental health with a panel discussion at the Rush Center on July 27.