What is the LGBTQ+ Community?
LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or ‘trans’, queer, and ‘plus’. The plus represents other sexual identities like pansexual or asexual. If you want more information on the correct terms and definitions, Stonewall, a leading charity on LGBTQ+ rights, have an extensive glossary.
LGBTQ+ is the accepted societal method for referring to the queer (which is another acceptable term) community. It’s used to reflect and represent a diverse range of sexualities and identities.
Anyone can experience problems with their mental health, but extensive evidence suggests that people in the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to suffer from issues like depression, anxiety, suicide or eating disorders. This article, written for both LGBTQ+ people with mental health issues or those who know someone from that community who is experiencing difficulties, discusses:
- Relevant statistics and research on LGBTQ+ mental health
- What unique difficulties the LGBTQ+ community faces and how it might affect their mental health
- Where LGBTQ+ members can get mental health support
- How you can support a member of the LGBTQ+ community with their mental health
Research on the topic of LGBTQ+ people and mental health show that they are at an increased risk of experiencing difficulties. Statistics show:
- Almost half of trans people (46%) have thought about taking their own life in the last year; 31% of LGB people said the same 
- Half of LGBT people (52%) experienced depression in the last year 
- Two-thirds (64%) of LGBT+ people have experienced anti-LGBT+ violence or abuse 
- Of those who have experienced violence or abuse, 92% had experienced verbal abuse and 29% had experienced physical abuse 
- 42% of LGBT+ school pupils have been bullied in the past year, double the number of non-LGBT+ pupils (21%) 
- Half of LGBT pupils (52%) hear homophobic language ‘frequently’ or ‘often’ at school, more than a third (36%) hear biphobic language ‘frequently’ or ‘often’, and almost half (46%) hear transphobic language ‘frequently’ or ‘often’ 
- 62% of LGBT respondents have witnessed or experienced homophobia or transphobia in sport 
- More than 15% percent of gay or bisexual men had, at some point, suffered anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder (BED), or at least certain symptoms of those disorders – compared to 5% of heterosexual men 
Being LGBTQ+ does not cause mental health problems. The reasons why someone develops a mental health issue are often complicated and multi-faceted. However, certain things are unique to people within this community, which may play a role in an LGBTQ+ individual developing a problem with their mental health.
Being a victim of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia
Negative attitudes towards people in the LGBTQ+ community still exist in society today. In 2018’s government-leader study, the National LGBT survey, 40% of people in the LGBTQ+ community said they’d experienced a negative incident, related to their sexuality or identity, in the last 12 months. The most common type of incident was verbal abuse.
Abuse of any kind can be can be very damaging to someone’s mental health. For many people who suffer multiple incidents, it can quickly feel like it is just part of their experience as a LGBTQ+ member.
‘Coming out’ as LGBTQ+ to family and friends
Coming out to your friends and family is often a very stressful experience, especially if you think it might be taken negatively by those close to you, or might lead to severe consequences. As an example, research from the Albert Kennedy Trust found that 69% of young LGBTQ+ homeless people were rejected by their family and suffered abuse.
It takes real strength to come out as a LGBTQ+ person. Those crippled by the stress of hiding their true self, or suffering from abuse after coming out, are at risk of mental health complications. It’s completely normal to find it difficult coming out, and many do struggle with. If you need advice, the LGBT foundation is a good place to start.
Society is making steady progress to treating everyone equally and fairly, but it’s still the case that someone in the LGBTQ+ community may be treated differently in a variety of settings just for being who they are.
This might happen in schools, religious or faith groups, or when using certain services. One of the most distressing places that discrimination can occur is in the workplace. A study from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that 40% of LGBTQ+ workers have experienced a work-based conflict in the last year, rising to 55% among trans workers. The figure for heterosexual workers was 29%.
It’s important to know your rights. The Equality Act 2010 was introduced in order to protect people from discrimination in the workplace and wider society. The government’s guidance can offer you direction if you think you’ve been the victim of discrimination based on your status as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Discrimination, abuse and negative attitudes can result in members of the LGBTQ+ community not feeling as though they’re respected by wider society. The National LGBT survey showed how this manifests itself in the LGBTQ+ community, as they amend their behaviours to hide who they really are or avoid confrontation.
- More than two thirds of LGBTQ+ respondents (68%) said they avoid holding hands with a same-sex partner for fear of a negative reaction from others
- 70% said they had avoided being open about their sexual orientation for fear of a negative reaction
Without acceptance, you can begin to feel very isolated and cut off from wider society. Loneliness and isolation, combined with stress from discrimination, abuse and conflict with family members, can easily combine and cause a mental health condition like depression, anxiety or an eating disorder.
LGBTQ+ Teens and Mental Health
Growing up as an LGBTQ+ person can be incredibly challenging. Bullying is a key driver of poor mental health among LGBTQ+ students in secondary school or college, and support levels remain low – as Stonewall’s School Report found.
- Two in five LGBTQ+ pupils (41%) – including 57% of trans pupils – worry about being bullied at school
- Fewer than a third of bullied LGBTQ+ pupils (29%) say that teachers intervened when they were present during the bullying
- Two in five LGBTQ+ pupils (40%) are never taught anything about LGBTQ+ issues at school
However, Stonewall acknowledged in their report that, over the course of 10 years, the number of lesbian, gay and bi pupils bullied because of their sexual orientation had fallen by almost a third. Plus, as of 2021, LGBTQ+ inclusive lessons became mandatory in all schools across England – showing that change is happening across education.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, it’s important to know you are not alone. Help and support are available in many different forms if you need it. Here are just a few places you can turn to that might help you to lighten the load you’re feeling right now:
Talk to someone
It takes incredible bravery to admit that you’re not OK, but it can be an immense relief to just get it off your chest. Speak to someone you trust, whether this is a friend or loved one – they’re sure to understand and do everything they can to help.
Join a support group
There are plenty of peer support groups where you can meet and speak to likeminded people. Take a look on Stonewall’s LGBT services page, where you can search for local community groups. If you want to stick to online support, Mind’s Side by Side community is a great place to head to.
Talk to your GP
Your doctor can be a great person to speak to if you want a medical perspective on your struggles. They could make a diagnosis, outline any treatment options, or refer you onto any specialist LGBTQ+ mental health services that might be available to you.
Reach out to a specialist organisation
If you’re in need of support from outside your immediate family, there are charities and other organisations that can offer specialist support for LGBTQ+ people. LGBTQ+ mental health charities such as Mind Out and LGBT Hero are a good place to start.
If you’re open to mental health support that doesn’t just specialise in serving the LGBTQ+ community, the likes of SANE and Samaritans have 24/7 helplines for anyone who is struggling and in need of someone to talk to or crisis support.
Consider professional support
Talking therapy is an effective treatment for many mental health conditions, making recovery absolutely possible. In therapy, you’ll speak to a trained professional about your feelings and develop more positive thought processes. Many therapists have experience working with LGBTQ+ people, and you can seek someone out whose skills and experience are tailored to your needs.
Speak to your GP about whether therapy is right for you, or alternatively, reach out to a private provider like Priory. Our world-class team of highly-qualified mental health specialists leave you safe in the knowledge that you’re in the best hands.
Try some self-care
Aside from external support, there are some small lifestyle changes you could make that might improve your mood and reduce any symptoms you’re experiencing – but only do what you feel like you can.
- Get a good night’s sleep – sleep and mental health are inextricably linked. Sleep recharges your brain and keeps your body happy and healthy. Get into a habit of a regular sleep cycle. Quick wins for doing this include going to bed at the same time every night, not looking at your phone in bed and cutting down on alcohol or heavy foods consumed late at night.
- Review your diet – diet is another important part of fuelling your overall wellbeing. It’s important that you drink plenty of water, eat healthily and try to cut down on anything you know isn’t good for you – you’ll quickly see a difference in how you feel.
- Get outside – physical exercise and being in touch with nature are proven ways of making us feel a little better. Even if it’s just for a short walk each day, try and head outside and stay active
- Try and be social – when you’re feeling down, we might not be able to think of anything worse than being sociable. But heading out with friends, or interacting with likeminded people through LGBTQ+-related events are a great way to boost your mood. The Consortium for strong LGBT+ communities have a great list of events going on that might be just what you need
If you know someone who is having trouble with their mental health, there’s plenty you can do to be a supportive friend, family member or loved one. Here are some simple yet effective things we can all do to support LGBTQ+ people through their mental health challenges.
Sitting down to talk to your friend or loved one might seem small, but it can be incredibly powerful. If you suspect someone isn’t OK, it can be useful to reach out to them in a careful and compassionate way – they might be afraid to speak up and initiate the conversation.
Don’t judge or make assumptions
When you are having those initial conversions, you only need to do one thing – listen. Don’t make assumptions based on what you think you know about mental health or people in the LGBTQ+ community. Enter the conversion with an open mind and try and put yourself in their shoes. Only then will you really get someone to open up about their feelings.
Support their search for help
Accepting that they need help is a huge step for your friend or loved one, and they’re going to need support throughout that process. Whether it’s attending a GP appointment with them or driving them to a therapy session, just being present lets your loved one know you are there for them.
Read up on the topic
Knowing how to approach these issues can be tough, especially if you’ve never experienced them yourself. Make sure you’re as clued up as possible, reading up on all things mental health and the challenges that LGBTQ+ people face that can damage their wellbeing.
Be an LGBTQ+ ally
If you’re doing everything above and just generally doing all you can to show your support for the community, then you can consider yourself an LGBTQ+ ally. The more people in society who treat everyone equally and without prejudice, the more effective we’ll all become at tackling mental health inequalities in the LGBTQ+ community.