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Fact Sheet

LGBTQ and having a tough time: Support for mental health issues


If you’re in crisis or thinking about suicide, call The Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you’re in danger now, or feel worried about your safety, call 911.

If you’re LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Questioning) and going through a tough time, you are not alone. There are many teens and young adults across the country who struggle with feelings of confusion, loneliness, misunderstanding, rejection, bullying, and fear of violence.

If you are either trying to figure out your own identity and/or if you are afraid of the reactions of peers, family, and community, it might be hard to know where to turn for support. This fact sheet helps explain some of the struggles you might be going through and where to find support to help build your coping skills.

What mental health issues affect LGBTQ young people?

Being misunderstood or the fear of being misunderstood by family, friends, society, even by oneself, can cause intense stress.  That kind of stress can create its own issues. 

For example, you might feel alone, like you’re holding a big secret, scared of being found out, and worried about how people will treat you.  Your peers, family, or community members may express negative attitudes and beliefs about LGBTQ people. 

You, yourself, may be experiencing “self stigma” (taking on the negative opinions others have about people who identify as LGBTQ, and directing those bad feelings towards yourself). All of these times can be hard to handle, whether or not people know that you identify as LGBTQ. The stress of being LGBTQ may also affect your coping skills for handling other mental health issues that young people (not just LGBTQ folks) face.

Common mental health issues include:

Depression

Depression can affect a person’s mood, thinking, interactions with other people, and physical health. In addition to feeling down, depression might make you see things more negatively or harshly, feel more sensitive to the way people treat you, and/or cause you to remove yourself from others. You may feel especially disconnected and shut down if you need to hide your identity to keep your emotional or physical safety. Some LGBTQ young people wish that they were different and this causes them to struggle with self-acceptance and self-esteem.

Anxiety

When someone has an anxiety disorder, they often experience strong feelings of fearfulness, threat, or uncertainty that are unrelated to a stressful event, such as taking a test, going on a date, or having to give a public speech.

As an LGBTQ person, everyday anxiety may be more intense if you are worried that friends and family won’t accept you if you come out as LGBTQ. Even worse, if you are being bullied, harassed, or rejected because you are out or thought to be LGBTQ, you may fear that your emotional and/or physical safety is at risk.

When you're having trouble coping

For some, the pain of depression and/or anxiety can lead to poor coping strategies, such as self-harm, substance abuse, or even leaving home in an effort to cope with the many possible stressors of being LGBTQ.

Why do some people choose unhealthy ways to cope such as self-harm and/or use drugs?

People may use substances (drugs and alcohol) or self-harm for many reasons, including

  • attempting to get away from or not feel overwhelming emotions
  • gaining a sense of control
  • self-punishment
  • nonverbally communicating their struggles to others

While these urges make sense, coping strategies that involve self harm and drug use can be risky. Use of drugs or alcohol and self harm may bring feelings of immediate relief or control, but this is short lived relief with added dangers such as increased isolation, shame and addiction that may hurt your ability to function physically and mentally.

Learning more positive ways to cope, is safer and can bring more lasting relief. Things like,

  • expressing yourself creatively 
  • seeking help from a mental health professional
  • taking deep breaths and practicing calming techniques

Often when we are in stressful situations or feel a huge amount of stress placed on us we can forget or ignore positive coping strategies. However, these strategies are key tools for helping yourself when feeling the urge to self harm or use drugs. In addition to finding positive alternatives to unhealthy coping strategies, talking through the difficult emotions that drive someone to self harm or use drugs can also lead to a greater understanding of yourself and more motivation to stick with healthy coping strategies.

Why do some LGBTQ youth consider leaving home?

Having safety at home and feeling loved and supported is the best-case scenario.  When this is the case, you can explore your sexual and gender identity freely and be open if you choose.  Communication with your family can help you to understand each other, even when you have disagreements. 

You may have already come out to your family or they may suspect or have figured out that you are LGBTQ. While some families are respectful, others may respond by not providing emotional support, kicking you out of the home, or by becoming emotionally or physically abusive.

If you are facing reactions like this and feel your home has become a crisis situation, you may feel like you have no choice but to leave home.  This might involve seeking out a friend or family member who can take you in until the situation at home calms down or you might feel the need to identify a more permanent living situation through a transitional housing or independent living program.

No matter what options you are considering, it’s important to know that help is available to you. You can take the first step towards finding the support you need by picking up the phone or starting a chat with a trained counselor at The Trevor Project (1-866 488-7386) or the National Runaway Safeline (1-800-RUNAWAY). We know you may be feeling scared, worried or angry. Counselors can help you process those feelings; provide completely confidential support and discover options you may not have considered including finding someone who can work with you to help you and your family or suggestions for approaching a family member or trusted adult who could help advocate for you.

In the case that you feel unable to stay or return home, services like the National Runaway Safeline and the Trevor Project can help you find the resources and support you need to stay safe. They can also help you answer important questions around supporting yourself financially, figuring out short term and long term living situations and other aspects of leaving home on a temporary or more permanent basis. For more information on the shelter, food and support services available to youth, including services with an LGBTQ focus, see our crisis resources page and homelessness page. 

If you are nervous about picking up the phone, you can also check out this fact sheet on what to expect when calling a help line. Whatever you’re going through, we strongly encourage you to call or chat today before taking your next step. It is never too late to reach out.

More Information

Resources for Depression and Anxiety 
Trevor Project
It Gets Better
Depression fact sheets
Anxiety fact sheets

Resources for Help with Self-Harm
Your Life Your Voice
http://us.reachout.com/facts/factsheet/deliberate-self-harm">Self Harm fact sheet

Resources for anyone in crisis or considering leaving home
National Runaway Safeline
Trevor Project
Lambda legal LGBTQ Youth Resources
National Coalition for the Homeless
National Listing of LGBT Community Centers

Resources for substance abuse
Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco fact sheet
LGBT Recovery Centers

Resources for sexual health
Planned Parenthood offers health services to all LGBTQ people
National AIDS Hotline
Project Inform
Safe Sex and STIs fact sheets

This fact sheet was produced in collaboration with GSA Network with support from California voter-approved Proposition 63 funds, as an initiative to develop mental health resources for LGBTQ youth in California. See the funding statement below for details.

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This program is funded by counties through the voter-approved Mental Health Services Act (Prop 63). It is one of several Prevention and Early Intervention Initiatives implemented by the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), an organization of California counties working to improve mental health outcomes for individuals, families and communities. CalMHSA encourages the use of materials contained herein, as they are explained in our licensing agreements. To view the agreements, please visit: calmhsa.org

 

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