Stigma: The Unique Mental Health Challenges of the LGBTQIA+ Community
May 07, 2020 09:00AM
by Michelle Jockisch Polo
LGBTQIA+ individuals are nearly three times more likely than others to suffer from a mental illness according to data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Some of the most common diagnoses are suicidal ideation, substance abuse, depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. Some of the most common diagnoses are suicidal ideation, substance abuse, depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. Factors like confronting stigma and prejudice, fear of coming out, discrimination in housing, schools and employment opportunities, rejection from families contribute to why LBGTQIA+ individuals are more likely than others to suffer from a mental health condition, according to Amy Ver Wey, a therapist at River City Psychological Services.
"No one is immune to trauma but the queer community is more likely to suffer from trauma because it can be more difficult for them to be accepted for who they are," she explained.
Ver Wey specializes in working with individuals across the gender and sexuality spectrum and has been a member of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) and is on a path to become a WPATH practitioner to be able to provide care for trans people in our community. A staggering reality, she says, is that in the already marginalized community that is the queer community, trans women of color tend to be the most marginalized.
According to the 2019 report from the Human Rights Campaign, the reason why trans women of color are more likely than others to encounter violence is that they are not only dealing with racism but they are also experiencing discrimination because of their gender identity. And it is these intersections that may force transgender and gender non-conforming people to work outside of the formal economy in situations where they may be more likely to face violence.
"There is a lot of physical violence that can be directed towards trans females especially towards trans youth because there are a lot of misconceptions and push back when they want to use a bathroom or a space that aligns with the gender they identify with," Ver Wey said.
And Ver Wey's assessment is correct with the ways that trans youth across the country continue to face pushback when attempting to use a bathroom that aligns with the gender they identify with. This was the case of Gavin Grimm, who was banned from using his public school's bathroom because he had not gone through sex reassignment surgery. Grimm spent several years fighting his case in court until last summer when a federal judge ruled that his constitutional rights had been violated by the Gloucester County School Board. These continuous difficulties to fight the denial of basic needs and services are what puts trans youth at a higher risk, according to Ver Wey, and the data shows this in that trans youth are more likely than other youth to consider and attempt suicide according to data from the Human Rights Campaign.
Because West Michigan is a particularly more conservative area than say New York City or San Francisco, being queer in West Michigan can be harder than any other in parts of the country.
"I have noticed there has been a climate change for acceptance of LGBTQIA+ individual, but the burden here is still on queer people to do the work to be accepted within the community at large," Ver Wey shared.
Today, during the time of coronavirus, as cases of the virus continue to rise both locally and globally, it's more important than ever to support those who are bearing the greatest burdens from the pandemic. With higher rates of HIV and cancer LGBTQIA+ population are more susceptible to the virus, according to data from GLAAD, a media advocacy organization. No matter whether you identify as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, Ver Wey says you can be a support to this community. She says you can start by listening, checking in with one another, donating if you are able to local mutual aid funds or directly to the queer person in your life who is struggling, being open-minded and not assuming that everyone in your inner and outer circle is straight.
"Confront your own biases and prejudices, even if it makes you uncomfortable," Ver Wey explained.
If you or someone you know is looking for support, or a place to ask questions about gender identity and sexual orientation, be sure to check out some of the groups hosted at the Grand Rapids Pride Center. There is a group for everyone, whether you are a youth, a parent or a queer adult looking for the community there is a group for you. For more information on when and where the groups meet please visit grpride.org.
This article appeared in the May 2020 edition of Women's LifeStyle Magazine. Click here to read the full edition.