While LGBTQ mental health needs are as diverse as the LGBTQ community, certain disparities are clear. This problem is compounded by the discrimination LBGTQ persons can experience attempting to access health care, especially transgender people and Black LGBTQ persons. In an article for The Advocate, Dr. Tia Dole, the chief clinical operations officer at the Trevor Project, writes that while “Black LGBTQ youth have similar rates of mental health disparities to all LGBTQ, they are significantly less likely to receive professional care.”
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to mental health hurdles — everyone faces their own unique struggles and is able to fortify in their own unique way — mental health professionals can offer some advice to LGBTQ persons looking to strengthen their mental health, and to allies who want to do what they can to protect their LGBTQ peers.
Below is a survey of seven mental health professionals who were asked these two questions:
- What is one mental health strategy, or related advice, that you think every member of the LGBTQ community should know?
- What is the best way for allies to support LGBTQ mental health?
Expert: Nora Alwah, MA, LPC. Alwah (she/her) is a somatic psychotherapist and social justice educator. She specializes in working with marginalized populations, including people of color, bilingual individuals, immigrants, queer, trans, and gender non-conforming individuals.
Question 1: “Let yourself be seen. Systems of oppression make us feel invisible. They dehumanize us. We then internalize these messages, which leads us to believe that we are unworthy.
The deepest way we can care for ourselves is to bravely see our worth. When we believe in our greatness, the oppressive systems can no longer control us. Owning our worth is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves. It reminds us of our innate queer superpower.”
Question 2: “Stop pretending that you understand. Assume that you have been harmful. Assume that you are going to mess up again and again.
When it happens, feel it. Feel the inadequacy. Feel the shame. Let it be a moment of insight, a window into our experiences of internalized oppression that we go through every day.
Own your ignorance. Fully embody it. When you do this, you give us space to breathe. You give us space to exist.”
Expert: Dr. Monica Lyn. Lyn is a licensed clinical psychologist who proudly identifies as a Black queer woman. She founded Therapy for Queer People of Color, a mental health network centered exclusively around the mental health and wellness needs of QPoC, in 2016.
Question 1: “Don't take your joy for granted. Be intentional about seeking pleasure. Set boundaries. Say no to things and people that don't affirm, nourish, and empower you. If you don't have the strength to do these things for yourself, find a queer crew or PRIDE tribe who'll help you get there, because building strong queer communities can be life-sustaining. Seek professional help when your burdens are too heavy to bear.”
Question 2: “Donate. Find LGBTQ+ mental health organizations and donate funds so they can offer free and/or lost cost therapy services. Also, be intentional about donating to organizations who predominantly serve the most marginalized of the LGBTQ+ community: Black trans women.”
Expert: Rachel Flaherty, LMFT.
Question 1: “Find a network of support, whether it be with a mental health group, on social media, or in person. Creating networks for support and validation is a great way to not feel like you are alone, especially if/when things are challenging.”
Question 2: “The best way for allies to support the LGBTQ mental health is to be cognizant of the challenges that this community faces and to not shy away from having conversations about it. Oftentimes allies or members that aren't a part of the LGBTQ community will wait until someone brings up a concern about depression or anxiety. Instead, an ally could be more intentional and ask people questions depending on their relationship. This simple act can make someone feel less invisible and that they are valued.”
Expert: Dr. Micaela Wexler. Wexler is a proud member of the LGBTQ community, and a child and adolescent psychiatrist who splits their time between serving as an assistant clinical professor at Kansas University Medical Center and running a specialty clinic for LGBTQ youth.
Question 1: “The strategy I have found most useful for my LGBTQ patients who have not yet come out is to query the people closest to them about their feelings regarding LGBTQ issues, and to then identify the most supportive person and form an alliance with that person. They shouldn’t assume everyone is lacking in support; they should find out. But, they also need to identify the people who are supportive so that they can build a network for themselves and begin their journey towards positivity.”
Question 2: “Don’t assume someone is cis-heterosexual. Approach each new person as if they might be LGBTQ. My medical students are doing a phenomenal job of this by introducing themselves by saying what their preferred pronouns are. This way, your first encounter with a member of the LGBTQ community is one of inclusivity.”
Expert: Christine Kerno, LICSW. Kerno is a clinical social worker and a “transgender warrior.”
Question 1: “Stay connected and create your own community. We cannot choose our biological (or adopted) family, but we can create our own LGBTQIA community.”
Question 2: “Speak out, advocate, and defend. If someone uses the wrong pronoun for a trans person, for example, say something!! We want your help, support, and protection.”
Expert: Dr. Jeremy Goldbach.Goldbach is an associate professor at the University of Southern California and the director of the Center for LGBT Health Equity.
Question 1: “If you think you need support, seek it out. There are many LGBTQ affirming therapists out there, and you are not alone.”
Question 2: “Being an ally means taking real action. It’s not about online posts and bumper stickers. It’s about sticking up for others even when — or especially when — it's hard. Find a way to openly show your support for the community in both vocal and non-verbal ways.”
Expert: Aida Manduley, LCSW. Manduley is a trauma-focused clinician and Latinx activist.
Question 1: “Oppression itself makes us sick. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to treat mental health issues as solely residing in the individual. They don’t! Check out the concept of ‘liberation health.’
Our mental health is both individual and collective, so we need to get better with connection and conflict. Learn about attachment styles, love languages, and having trauma-informed relationships. So listen to this podcast episode, follow @clementinemorrigan on Instagram, and google “love languages” — but beware of the original heteronormative book about them. You’ll thank me later.”
Question 2: “Not everyone has the same resources or talents, so the first thing is to figure out what you specifically and uniquely can contribute. Overall, you should aim to mobilize your resources and skills to support LGBTQ people both locally and more broadly.
First, moving money is absolutely critical, no matter how small the amount, and making that an ongoing commitment. Whether you’re moving your own money, someone else’s, or both — financial support for LGBTQ people is key, especially given how many LGBTQ people, especially folks of color, live in poverty. That can mean donations to a mental health fund, and it can also mean literally paying for your LGBTQ loved ones to directly access healing services (including therapy, but also things like bodywork) or get bills covered that ease their daily stress (which impacts their mental health).
As far as non-financial contributions, consider what you like doing, what you’re good at doing, and what the LGBTQ community around you has requested or expressed as a need. The sweetest spot is at that intersection. Don’t just frantically offer random things. This might mean you make and deliver meals to LGBTQ parents who are working and raising kids full time. It might mean you organize your community to fight against transphobic homeless shelter policies in your city. It might mean you check in on your queer friend who’s struggling and lend them a friendly ear so they can vent about their day. Be creative and consistent, and challenge yourself! If it’s feeling simple and easy, time to level up again."