Recent polls indicate that 7.1% of American adults identify as LGBTQIA2S+, double the amount almost a decade ago. The increasing percentage of the population that identifies as something other than heterosexual is likely due to societies increasing understanding and acceptance of people with these identities, but the discrimination these individuals unfortunately still face puts them at an increased risk of addiction, substance abuse, and mental health-related issues.
The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization focusing on suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ+ youth, reports that 72% experienced symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and 62% experience symptoms of depression. Their national survey also found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide, and 94% of respondents reported that recent politics had negatively impacted their mental health. Access to counseling from mental health professionals can help treat these mental health issues, but almost half of LGBTQ youth have wanted counseling from a professional but did not receive it. These younger members of the community struggle the most with mental health issues
Combined with the discrimination LGBTQIA2S+ individuals may face and the stress of constantly seeing their rights and existence constantly debated in the political sphere, the lack of access to healthcare or adequate, specialized treatment options can lead to substance misuse. Drugs and alcohol can be used as a coping mechanism or a form of self-medication, and research shows that adults who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are almost two times as likely to experience a substance use disorder when compared to heterosexual and cisgender adults, respectively.
Research shows that LGBTQIA2S+ individuals of all ages disproportionately experience more mental health issues, substance abuse disorders, and poorer wellbeing outcomes, making it important to ensure they have access to proper healthcare and support from society a large.
However, it’s important to note that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or otherwise queer – while once used as a slur, the term is now often used as an umbrella term for the wide variety of people on the spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identifies – is NOT a mental illness. While LGBTQIA2S+ individuals can and do experience mental health issues, these issues are not a direct result of their identity.
Despite the social stigma and discrimination they face, many LGBTQIA2S+ individuals show a strong sense of resiliency and are proud of their identities. This sense of resilience and pride is aided by a supportive family, community, and peers. Research shows that LGBTQIA2S+ youth with a supportive family have not only better mental health and a lower risk of substance abuse but greater self-esteem and less suicidal ideation and behaviors.