|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.
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 www.nami.org/.