I am proud to announce that I’ve recently finished a course on how to better treat people from the LGBTQ+ community.
During my five years working as an online psychotherapist at Wherapy, I’ve met and treated a lot of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer.
Even though I’ve learnt a lot from working with these people, I am very glad to have received a formal education on the subject and now I want to share some of what I’ve learnt with you.
Here are some reasons why members of the LGBTQ+ community may suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental health issues.
Cis-Norms & Hetero-Norms
We can’t talk about mental health issues within the LGBTQ+ community without mentioning the impact of societal norms.
Even though we’ve come a long way over the last few decades, certain societal norms such as the cis-norm and the hetero-norm are still prevalent and have a profound impact on the mental well-being of a large part of the LGBTQ+ community.
For those of you who don’t know, the cis-norm pertains to an expectation to identify with one’s birth gender and to follow the norms associated with it, whilst the hetero-norm relates to an expectation that everyone is straight.
In other words, we take for granted that the people we meet are straight and cis. Since the majority of people are straight and cis, this might not seem strange but it does have some implications for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The existence of the cis and hetero-norms back members of the LGBTQ+ community into a corner, where they are forced to make a choice: either I share very personal information about myself being someone who deviates from the norm as a member of the LGBTQ+ community or I hide that information about myself and accept the fact that I will be treated in a certain way because I have withheld that information.
Even those of us who are straight and cis can imagine the trauma associated with coming out but we rarely think about it occurring on a near daily basis.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community have to face this trauma every day, which is why they are statistically more likely to suffer from depression than people who don’t deviate from the cis and hetero-norm.
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Norms Within The LGBTQ+
A lot of people forget that within the minority there is also a majority and the LGBTQ+ community is no different. It has well-established norms just like any other group.
Similar to there being an expectation in society that one is cisgender, there is an expectation within the LGBTQ+ community that one thinks and behaves in a certain way.
Now, people who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community can speak to this in more depth than I can do but it isn’t hard to imagine that there is an expectation within the homo-norm that gay men should be overly feminine and hyper-sexual and likewise that lesbians should be manly and somewhat stoic.
The trans community has its own norms regarding one’s affiliation with the group with post-op trans people being seen as more committed to their identity than non-operated trans people.
Needless to say, the norms that exist within the LGBTQ+ community force its members to think about whether or not they belong to said community.
In other words, their identity is challenged on two levels, first through societal norms and then through norms within the LGBTQ+ community itself.
The feelings of isolation and doubt that arise as a result of this challenge is what leads to many people within the LGBTQ+ community to suffer from depression.
Minority Stress, Micro-Aggressions, Hyper-Vigilance
Deviating from societal norms can lead to something called minority stress. Aside from interpersonal prejudice, minority stress can be caused by poor social support and low socioeconomic status.
Although low socioeconomic status is not a given when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community to the same extent as, for example, migrant workers, poor social support has historically been an issue and in many countries continues to be an issue until this very day.
Another aspect that factors into the prevalence of depression and mental health issues within the LGBTQ+ community is the exposure to micro-aggressions.
Micro-aggressions are indirect, subtle or unintentional acts of discrimination towards a minority group. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are exposed to this on a near daily basis and a lot of the time the perpetrators of micro-aggressions do in fact have good intentions.
Well-meaning displays of tolerance can sometimes be seen as a micro-aggression as it reaffirms the difference in the power dynamic between the tolerant norm-follower and the norm-deviant.
Being a member of a minority group can also lead to something called hypervigilance.
People who are hypervigilant are constantly assessing potential threats. In other words, they are looking for micro-aggressions.
Being in a state of hypervigilance is also conducive to the development of depression and other mental health issues.