Cepeda column: Take action to help lessen the toll on LGBTQ people
CHICAGO — Perhaps overlooked in all the colorful Pride Month celebrations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ) population is the toll that the difficult past and often-uncertain future take on the mental health of people who aren’t straight.
To put it in perspective, 39% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months, 71% of them reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in the same time period, and 71% reported experiencing discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to The Trevor Project’s inaugural National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, which was released earlier this month.
The California-based Trevor Project, which provides crisis-intervention and suicide-prevention services to LGBTQ people under 25, undertook the largest survey of LGBTQ youth mental health ever conducted.
“Better understanding the mental health experiences of LGBTQ young people is a major step in addressing their significantly higher risk for attempting suicide,” said Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, in a statement.
For both young and not-so-young LGBTQ people, there’s typically a long road of first understanding one’s self, then asserting a gender identity or sexual orientation, and then coming out over and over again to family, friends, co-workers, etc.
Under the very best of circumstances, it’s not as easy being LGBTQ as it is often portrayed on TV and in films. And this is not the very best of circumstances: We live in a country in which the president — despite tweets to the contrary — seems to be working diligently to strip LGBTQ people of civil rights as well as access to serving in the military and obtaining health care, and who knows what else.
And, not surprisingly, the effects of trauma, anxiety or depression hit LGBTQ people of color harder because of cultural stigmas and a lack of access to mental health resources.
It’s an issue that affects all people of color, even those with reliable health insurance coverage.
Over the past few months I’ve sought help for my own anxiety and depression, and to work through the challenges of being a married, middle-aged mom of two who has been coming out to my family, friends and co-workers as queer.
It has not gone well.
Thank goodness I was not in an all-out crisis when I sought help; it took days to find a therapist close enough that I could make it to appointments, coordinate with their office for insurance paperwork and actually get on the schedule.
And then the therapist and I didn’t click.
I made it through two sessions, both of which left me in tears, and I canceled all my future appointments.
Now, I don’t believe that a non-Latina therapist wouldn’t be able to relate to me, necessarily, but my impression was that this particular therapist — an older, affluent Caucasian lady who kept asking me why I hadn’t done this and why I hadn’t done that — couldn’t possibly understand my life, my family or my mindset.
For people diagnosed with depression, 64% of Latinos, 59% of African Americans and 69% of Asians — compared with 40% of whites — do not seek treatment, according to a 2008 national study. As a reason, the minority groups cite difficulties with accessing care and their expectation of low-quality care.
It’s heartbreaking to imagine someone — much less a young person, an uninsured person or anyone without lots of education, time and resources — who is experiencing a depressive or anxious episode also having to go through the daunting rigmarole of dealing with health care bureaucracies just to access therapy.
And we would expect them to also try to find a LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider? Or perhaps a professional of their own background who can uniquely understand where they come from and how they exist in their communities? It’s nearly unthinkable.
Meanwhile, we wear rainbows and march with Pride in general support of it being OK to be LGBTQ in 2019.
Cool. Do that. And then take action — literally any action. Read up on LGBTQ issues. Or donate a few bucks to any organization, like the Trevor Project or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, to help them keep supporting so many vulnerable people.
There’s no better way to celebrate your LGBTQ friends, family and acquaintances during Pride Month — and year-round, for that matter — than to actively give your support.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter: @estherjcepeda.
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