Learning to be yourself and dealing with other people’s perception of you can be hard for anyone. This process can be especially stressful or tough for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). In fact, they can face unique issues when it comes to mental health. The discrimination LGBT students may face or the pressure they feel from their family or community, can put them at greater risk for emotional health struggles like depression, anxiety, substance abuse and even suicide.
If you or someone you know is struggling with issues related to sexuality or pressures of not being accepted by family, friends or community, it’s important to speak up. By developing strong coping skills, creating a positive social network, and seeking help if needed, LGBT students can protect their emotional health during college and beyond.
LGBT individuals who are dealing with mental health conditions like depression may have to contend with even more stigma because of discrimination or misunderstandings related to their sexual orientation. Having to deal with the additional stigma can worsen mental health conditions. Here are some tips for overcoming stigma:
• Surround yourself with supportive people. Check to see if your campus has groups for LGBT students. It’s a great way to find people who can relate to what you’re going through.
• Seek help. If you’re experiencing sadness, anxiety or stress that is interfering with your ability to get things done and live a fulfilling life, make an appointment with a mental health counselor on campus. It’s the first step toward feeling better.
• Remember it has nothing to do with you. Society creates and perpetuates stigma about many groups. Remember that others’ reactions to your sexual identity or orientation are not your fault, and say nothing about the person you are.
• Join an advocacy group. To further fight stigma, it might help you to participate in a mental health or LGBT advocacy group on campus.
Helping Your Friend
If you have a friend who’s told you about their sexual orientation and/or emotional health struggles, there are various ways you can support them. Here are some suggestions.
• Listen and empathize. You might experience a variety of emotions — like confusion, surprise and sadness —when finding out about a friend’s sexual orientation or emotional health issues. This is to be expected. They are normal responses. When talking to them, don’t interrupt and remain open to what they’re saying. Avoid judging them, and try to put yourself in their shoes.
• Get educated. Learn more about mental illness and the concerns that LGBT individuals might have. This helps you better understand what your friend is going through and know how to help them.
• Challenge the stigma. Try not to make derogatory comments about LGBT individuals. Even jokes just further stereotypes and stigma. And speak up when others make comments or jokes.