Being LGBTQ+ impacts mental health identity

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Queer people are more likely to experience mental health issues, not because they’re queer but because of the society in which they live, according to Karen Deysher, the program director over LGBT Student Services.

The academic branch of Multicultural Student Council hosted their monthly Diversity Dialogue event with this month’s topic being Mental Health and Queerness. MSC welcomed Deysher to discuss queerness and its relation to mental health in the library auditorium.

Deysher gave a brief overview of the multiple identities assigned to non-heterosexual individuals within the mental health professional community using a manual titled Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders. From paraphilia, sexual deviancy, mental disorder to the eventual removal of  homosexuality from the the DSM, the identity of the LGBTQ+ and queer community has gone through multiple changes.

“A lot of this change was through queer activism,” said Deysher. “I don’t think a lot of people recognize that a vast majority of the advocacy came from the LGBT folks that were psychologists and psychiatrists, or folks that saw therapists and were being forced to undergo unsafe, unfair and not even clinically-proven effective treatments. They would oftentimes go to various mental health lectures and conferences and protests.”

This progress didn’t benefit everyone a part of the transgender community within the LGBTQ+. Transgender people were classified as having a gender identity disorder with the DSM in 1980. It wasn’t until 2018 that the World Health Organization decided that being transgender would no longer be classified as a mental illness, but rather a sexual health condition.

“This helps to normalize things, like how being straight, heterosexual, is just a way of living. There isn’t any value attributed to it,” said Deysher.

According to Deysher, LGBTQ+ people are more than twice as likely to have a mental health disorder in their lifetime than heterosexual men and women.

“I think it’s very important to keep in mind that being LGBTQ+ is not the reason that people have higher rates of mental health conditions; it’s because of societal factors,” said Deysher.

According to Deysher, in comparison to heterosexual people, LGBTQ+ people are 1.5 to 3 times more likely to experience depression and anxiety. LGBTQ+ people are also more likely to participate in substance abuse.

“Historically, a lot of LGBTQ spaces have been bars,” said Deysher. “Folks are forced to go to these underground spaces just to meet folks. When you’re in these spaces, you’re going to do what others are doing.”

Deysher explained that LGBTQ+ youth from ages 10 to 24 are four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. The number even higher for transgender people experiencing suicidal ideations.

“Family support plays a really important role when it comes to affecting the likelihood of someone attempting suicide,” explained Deysher, “If folks are in accepting, affirming environments, all the risks and disparities go down tremendously. When it comes to the definition of family, to keep it inclusive, it can mean anything.”

Within the LGBTQ+ community, there are multiple subpopulations that intersect. Ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, ableness and national origins play a role in the levels of disparities in regards to mental health issues a queer/LGBTQ+ person endures.

After Deysher’s lecture, the MSC hosted a panel with senior political science major Nate Rounding and junior social work major Jesse Hensley. Rounding and Hensley expounded upon their personal experiences and understandings of mental health and how it has impacted them as queer individuals.

Hensley expressed the discomfort that often arises when health care professionals lack the training necessary to deal with transgender individuals, highlighting how hard it is to find therapists and general practitioners that patients don’t have to educate.

“I had a therapist a while back who wasn’t very educated on queer topics and did not understand much about gender identity,” said Hensley.

“When I told them I was transgender, they would try to be professional and respecting in a really friendly way, but you could tell that they just didn’t understand,” he said, “trying to open up about these things with someone who just doesn’t get it was really hard, and I wasn’t getting the help I needed.”

Hensley expressed their discomfort going to the doctor for concerns regarding sex related matters, such as hormones or genitalia, as it often yields surprised and awkward conversations between them and their doctor.

“This discourages me from wanting to talk about these things again, making me less likely to even seek the healthcare needed about those things in the future because,” Hensley said, “I feel really embarrassed by how astonished they are that I have different genitals than they thought.”

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