Monday, January 3, 2011

Recent Research: Meeting the Mental Health Needs of the GLBT Community

by MaJose Carrasco, Director of NAMI's Multicultural Action Center
MaJose Carrasco, Director of NAMI's Multicultural Action Center

One after another, we read about them in the news this fall—Asher Brown, 13, Seth Walsh, 13, Billy Lucas, 15, Tyler Clementi, 18 and Raymond Chase, 19. These young people had one tragic thing in common—they all died of suicide following bullying and harassment due to their sexual orientation. Sadly, these lives cut short underscored how the physical and mental wellbeing of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) youth is hindered by the misunderstandings, restricted freedom and personal attacks that are all variants of homophobia. Research has shown that GLBT youth are more vulnerable to depression, anxiety and suicide due to stressors associated with their sexual orientation or gender identity. Over time, these incidents accumulate in a person’s experience, driving home the feeling that there is no place for them as they are in society. Some, like the five young people mentioned above, think that they will not be missed.

GLBT individuals, who represent 10 percent of our country’s population, face many of the same challenges the rest of Americans face when dealing with mental illness. However, GLBT individuals often face additional mental health stressors but as well as challenges when seeking quality treatment. Barriers to treatment include lack of community knowledge about mental illness, stigma and lack of cultural competence in service delivery. In addition, there are few studies dealing specifically with GLBT mental health, though thankfully, GLBT-specific mental health research has increased as evidenced by three new studies published in the last couple of weeks. These welcome additions to the body of knowledge about GLBT wellness will help us better understand how mental illness affects this community and assist us in indentifying risk factors, community specific treatment options, interventions and more. Below are brief summaries of the three research articles published recently.

Mental Health Disorders, Psychological Distress, and Suicidality in a Diverse Sample of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youths
American Journal of Public Health
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago published this study which determined that approximately one-third of GLBT youth in the sample had attempted suicide even though the majority (70 percent) of study participants do not meet the criteria for mental illness. About 10 percent of participants met criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, 15 percent met criteria for major depression, a third had made a suicide attempt and 6 percent had a suicide attempt in the last year. These rates are higher than rates from youths in national samples but similar to rates from racial and ethnic minorities.

For more information visit

Family Acceptance in Adolescence and the Health of GLBT Young Adults
Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing
This study from the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University establishes a solid link between family acceptance and overall health and risks for GLBT youth. GLBT teens from families with accepting attitudes and behaviors, such as advocating for their GLBT children and supporting their gender expression, had better overall health in adulthood. Supportive family attitudes are protective factors against depression, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts and attempts. In fact, GLBT youth with low levels of family support were over three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and to report suicide attempts than GLBT youth with supportive families.

Furthermore, GLBT youth from supportive families had higher levels of self-esteem and social support in young adulthood. The message is clear, acceptance and support from parents and families not only protect GLBT youth from suicide risks, substance abuse and depression, but also promote overall wellbeing. In order for us to improve these youth’s mental health outcomes, we must develop interventions to help increase family acceptance and support.

Criminal-Justice and School Sanctions Against Non-heterosexual Youth: A National Longitudinal Study
Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics
This Yale University study focused on lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youth, who they found to receive excessive punishment in comparison to non-LGB youth engaged in similar behavior. The study found that LGB youth were about 40 percent more likely than non- LGB youth to be punished by school authorities, police and the courts (punishment included school expulsions, arrests, juvenile and adult convictions and police stops). They were 50 percent more likely to be stopped by police officers, more likely to be expelled from school and convicted as adults. Adolescent girls who identified as lesbian or bisexual were particularly at higher risk to receive harsher punishment. They reported twice as many police stops, arrests and convictions as non-LGB youth who had engaged in similar behavior.
Most alarmingly, the differences in punishment were not explained by differences in the rates of misbehavior. Actually, in the study, LGB youth engaged in less violence than non-LGB teens.

When one of my dearest friends was diagnosed with depression, he felt extremely afraid.  He felt that this was something he could not really share even with his partner for fear of being rejected and misunderstood.  He shared his fears with me since he knew I worked in the mental health field.  He feared not being accepted or understood due to his illness and he shared that this reminded him about his coming out process and the fears and concerns he had of not being accepted or understood because of his sexual orientation.  Nobody should have to fear acknowledging his/her sexual orientation. Nobody should have to fear acknowledging his/her mental illness. Unfortunately, many Americans justifiably have these concerns.  As the research studies described above show, the stressors GLBT individuals face are real and can significantly impact a person’s mental health. 

As mental health advocates we need to continue spreading the word about mental health and recovery. Our stories, our education classes and support groups and our advocacy can help end the stigma many people face so that one day, a person diagnosed with mental illness does not have to fear rejection. The studies above also back up the need for the mental health community to develop interventions to help increase acceptance and understanding of GLBT youth.

Concerted approaches at the local, state and national levels can help prevent tragedies and save the lives of many GLBT youth who today may not feel accepted by their peers or even their families.

Since 2007, NAMI has focused attention on the specific mental health needs of the GLBT population. As we have with other NAMI communities, we listened to the guidance and input from the community leadership,  NAMI’s GLBT Leaders Group, and we have developed several fact sheets and resources including A Mental Health Recovery and Community Integration Guide for GLBTQI Individuals: What You Need to Know and GLBTQI Mental Health: Recommendations for Policies and Services.

For additional resources and information visit


M. Varner said...

I'm glad to see someone blog about this, which speaks in many ways to the audience of my own blog. In the coming months, I as a poet would like to do an awareness event with local organizations in Columbus, OH. We cannot ignore nor discount the lives of LGBT youth - for they are full of opporunity. So instead, we need to support and encourage their pursuit of life and the happiness to which they are entitled, like anyone else.

Aimee M. Sims said...

M. varner - I'm glad you have been inspired - this whole issue moved me to start a poetry contest that allows people of all sexual orientations, and persons with physical and mental challenges to share about their relationship with God. Unfortunately the church has helped to create this atmosphere in which "spiritual" and physical bullying is tacitly condoned. Only when people hear our true stories will the tide begin to change. write your faith.

The Rapid Cycler said...

I agree M. Varner, I'd like to see more people blog about this subject.

Bret A. Warshawsky said...

Why The Arizona Shooting Reminds ME of a Unique Life Purpose;
We Need Mental Health Reformation, Transformation, Evolution & Revolution

The recent tragedy in Arizona has reminded me & reinforced in me, one of my life purposes. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when I was 19 (36 Now), and I've spent 6 stays in the psychiatric ward in my twenties... I was committed against my will every time. I have unique insight into the mental health experience and my gift is my ability to express, articulate and describe the experience from multiple perspectives. I believe my personal experience combined with my ability to analyze and communicate the experience is special and more importantly-valuable. I'd like to start a consulting firm/education foundation that provides training and education to schools, colleges, law enforcement agencies, etc- I'd like to tailor the experience as being from multiple perspectives but most importantly from those of us who have experienced psychosis, mania, psychiatric wards (being committed), and those of us who have the unique ability to really analyze & discuss & communicate the experiences in terms that can edify and train others from a foundation of compassion, empathy & true understanding. I'm also interested in having a group of family members familiar with the experience being involved as well.

This August I will also become a published author for the first time as part of Lisa Nichols' co-authorship program. My chapter being about my life with Bipolar Disorder, how I've come to see it as a blessing and what I've done to try and become all that I can be.

So, my unique purpose revolves around compassion, education, reform, insight and enlightenment when it comes to mental illness and all that is involved. I'm hoping to use this book exposure and any success or exposure from it to launch a career as a speaker on recovering, surviving and thriving with a mental illness. I'm especially interested in interacting with children and teens because so many of us are faced with the symptoms and issues at those ages and I wish I had had someone like me to speak to when I was first diagnosed. I'd also like to get involved with the prison population, as we know; so many people are incarcerated when they really need help.

Please keep an eye out this month for my websites, &

Both of these sites will contain my new blog and details concerning my upcoming book signing & speaking tour. I'd like to partner with NAMI and other organizations for co-events where we can fund-raise for your passion & help me inspire others. In exchange for your help I will be willing to donate 50% of any book profits from that event.

Bret A. Warshawsky

Anonymous said...

Hi, My son had been living with us for one & a half years, diagnosed with bipolar and schizophrenia.He convinced his Dr after a few visits that the meds made him feel sick. So those meds were stopped but he always had pot around and smoked as much as possible. I wanted him to stop but had no support in that area with my son and my husband. I knew I was getting no where and with that and just recently my son moved out with very little money. The story goes on but I'll stop at this point and hope for a reply. Thanks for listening. Please help me with any advise. Thank you.

Contributors: said...

Hi Anonymous,

It sounds like you have several issues going on with your son. The people at NAMI's HelpLine are trained to be able to help you find support. Please do call (800) 950-NAMI and talk to someone about some options for you and your son.

Female Hair loss said...

thanks for this... i have a whole group of friends who are gay and i could say that i owe them my life, literally, my family doesn't like me hanging out with them, but i stood my ground and told them how much i owe to these great people... i hope other people see how great they are...

hair loss men said...

its nice to know that there are actually people who would like to make a change for the LGBT community... majority of friends of mine are gay, and in one moment in my life, they turned out to be my life saver... o practically owe them my life and would always feel that way..

Mr. Quiroz said...

THANKS for the post Majose. Depression and emotional health are critical issues for the gay and lesbian group, in general most people think that clinical depression is more common amongst gay men and lesbians than in the common population. Clinical professionals need to understand that these problems should be an essential part of every patient evaluation and and so they should treat patients appropriately

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the helpful blog.

Luis the Hair Loss Treatment Expert said...

Mental health and sexual orientation must be complemented and sexual choices should be respected, we need guidance and training in the home, from children