A few things the LGBTQ and mental health communities want everyone to understand this Pride Month and beyond
During Pride Month, events and parades across the country celebrate how far the LGBTQA+ community has come in fighting for the right to simply be themselves — and love whomever they want to love — freely. But Pride Month is also a time to reflect on the challenges people in the LGBTQA+ community still face, with politicians pushing laws that hinder their right to exist in public spaces or make it legal to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. On top of this, lack of acceptance and bullying can have dire psychological consequences.
According to The Trevor Project, lesbian, gay and bi adolescents and adults have two to six times higher rates of reported suicide attempts compared to adolescent and adult straight populations. The National Alliance on Mental Illness also states that folks in the LGBTQA+ community are almost three times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition such as major depression or generalized anxiety disorder. There’s no doubt that discrimination and societal pressures play a part in this.
There’s also the uncomfortable fact that being gay was actually listed as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) until 1973. Now, those who are gay and living with a diagnosed mental illness have a different set of challenges — while someone may be supportive of your sexuality, they might hold hurtful beliefs about people who live with depression. Another person may get what it means to have bipolar but think a person’s asexuality is “all in their head.” Likewise, while some see their mental illness as part of their identity — perhaps similar to their sexuality — others see their illness as something separate from themselves, unlike their sexual orientation. And neither is wrong.
Here are some things that I've heard from LGBTQ people about the intersection between mental illness and sexuality, and what they wish people understood.
1. “Just because I have a mental illness doesn’t mean I’m confused about my sexuality. A person’s sexuality is not caused by mental illness nor is it a mental illness in itself.”
2. “My queerness and my neurodivergence are inseparable, and that’s OK. I’m not a bad example for the cause because of it.”
3. “My mental illness (MI) did not cause me to be bisexual nor did being bisexual cause me to have mental illness. My identification as bisexual stands alone from my illnesses, and I believe firmly I would still have been bisexual had I not developed MI as a result of the traumas in my early life. I want people to understand it not part of a personality disorder or a reaction to trauma. It is in my genetic makeup as much as my eye color and my skin tone.”
4. “My sexuality and mental illness aren’t the same nor are they interchangeable. I will always be apart of the LGBTQ+ community and I will always live with the effects of my mental illness. I just wish you guys wouldn’t tiptoe around me when it comes to such subjects like depression and PTSD because it is so degrading and hurtful, and I get that you don’t wish to trigger me, but instead of avoiding it — talk to me about it and find out about my experience. Find out about my triggers and find out about me too.”
5. “I wish I connect with more people in the LGBTQA+ community, but having social anxiety makes that super hard. I’d love to reach out and meet more like-minded and similar people, but I can only manage to do so much (most of my friendships are long-distance/online). And finding safe spaces nearby to meet people is also a huge struggle as well.”
6. “People outside the community understood that labels don’t define who we are, but stigma damages us more than they realize — as someone who has fought to accept both her mental illness and her asexuality, people telling me ‘it’s just a phase’ or ‘you’ll get over it’ or ‘you just haven’t met the right person yet’ doesn’t help me accept myself one single bit.”
7. “Just because I was abused by a man (step-dad) does not mean that is why I’m a lesbian. My PTSD has nothing to do with my sexuality. I liked women before the trauma. What really bugs me the most is that some people think that an LGBTQA+ person owes an explanation of their sexuality. No one should ever have to explain to anyone their sexuality.”
8. “Wish they would understand how hard the LGBTQ community gets bullied, picked on and verbally abused by others and how it affects them in many different ways… we are just normal people trying to live our life as any other people and just want to be accepted for who we are, not what we are stereotyped as.”
9. “My mental illness does not cause my sexuality. I have PTSD and depression, and I am asexual. The trauma was not the cause, I just so happen to have both of these as part of my life. Period.”
10. “I’m not ‘just confused’ because I’m non-binary. But my sexuality and gender do impact my mental health. Minority stress is real, and it has a real effect on well-being.”
11. “It’s hard to find other LGBTQ people when you have social anxiety disorder and aren’t out to anyone. I’ve found the community has an intimidating reputation, and social anxiety makes it doubly so.”
12. “We deserve to be included.”
13. “Bisexuality is part of my identity. Depression is not.”
14. “I’m not depressed because of my sexual identity, nor am I queer because I’m depressed. I wish society would stop trying to pathologize my attraction to people.”
15. “Being an outcast in both communities is very lonesome and tiring.”
16. “I am not broken in any sense of the word. But I am 100 percent valid.”
17. “I wish people understood that I like girls all the time, not only when my mood is manic.”
18. “I’m pansexual, and I wish other people understood, regardless of my sexual orientation, I am still a person. A person with a debilitating mental illness who needs love and support. If you cannot support me then step aside.”
19. “Being bipolar doesn’t make me bisexual, and I’m fully capable of having a proper romantic relationship (and I’ve been in one for almost three years).”
20. “We are this way, and we are proud of it, so please give us support.”
If you or someone you know needs help, visit this suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
Thanks to The Mighty for compiling some of the content for this post.