The Mental Health of our LGBTQ Friends

We celebrated National Coming Out Day last Friday, and it gave me a few things to think about. As we all know, this world is hard enough. The times we live in are more interconnected, more stressful and more difficult than they ever have been, and I do think that the current state of our world is adding to our rising rates of mental illness and suicide.

So, imagine being someone who so many in society say is wrong.

I’m a straight, white man. This comes with many societal advantages. And let me be clear, I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to be a sexual orientation that is different.

But numbers don’t lie: It’s a harder life. A quick look at the statistics:

  • 28% of all LGBTQ youth said they felt depressed most of the time (in the past 30 days), compared to 12% of non-LGBTQ youth.
  • When compared to non-LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ youth are:
    • Twice as likely to feel suicidal.
    • Four times as likely to attempt suicide.
  • Over the course of their lifetime, 30-60% of LGBTQ people deal with depression – 1.5 – 2.5 times as straight individuals.
  • These issues are largely impacted by perceived support and social stigma.

So, what can we do to help individuals who identify as LGBTQ? A few things. First, remember, all language counts. If you show bias towards one group, individuals are far more likely to perceive you as biased towards another. Don’t be that person who uses bias and then jumps in with, “But I have a gay friend!” Don’t show bias in your language. Don’t use derogatory terms to discuss anyone. Language counts. Language reinforces stigma and stereotypes. Use appropriate pronouns. Use language that is kind and respectful. And just…don’t be an ass.

Second: Show your support. You don’t know who is struggling or who is desperate for someone to talk to. One study which was bouncing its way around my Facebook feed showed that an LGBT individual who found a supportive adult could see their risk of suicide drop by 40%. Be that one person. And be so explicitly. Yeah, post something to your Facebook page about how you support LGBT people and you’re a safe person to come out to. Is it gonna get anyone to come out to you? Maybe. But, more importantly, someone who is LGBTQ will see it, and will appreciate it. They will know that you value them as a person. That you believe in their dignity and basic human rights.

Third: Support policies which humanize LGBTQ people. In most places in Pennsylvania, you can be fired or evicted for being gay. That’s madness, and laws matter: When gay marriage was equal in only some states, studies showed that LGBTQ people had better mental health and lower rates of addiction when they lived in states where gay marriage was legal. Again: PUBLIC POLICY MATTERS. It makes a difference! Support your LGBT friends by supporting candidates for office who support human dignity for all.

Others who are better versed in this subject have written about it, and I encourage you to read more about how to help millions of Americans feel loved and safe. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to be a minority in America – particularly today, given that the President is a racist, xenophobic monster who stirs up hatred at anyone he can find. That being said, I remain convinced – now more than ever – that this is the moment to show our friends – all of our friends – the love and respect they deserve. Be that person. Be one of the people who tells our friends that they are loved. You may save a life.

The importance of inclusion – for everyone

I caught this article on Facebook the other day – it’s results caught me by surprise (to an extent) but it has a key finding that I really wanted to go over.

In 2014, the University of British Columbia examined the connection between suicide rates and having a Gay-Straight Alliance at High Schools in Canada. The results showed that students were less likely to feel discrimination, experienced lower suicidal thoughts, and have lower rates of suicide attempts.

Just gay students, right?

Wrong. All students.

This is a pretty striking finding. Not only are GSAs positively related to the mental health of gay students, but if the findings of this study are correct, they can also positively impact the mental health of students whose lives would (theoretically) not be impacted directly by the Gay-Straight Alliance.

This is great for many reasons. First, as I discussed last week, LGBT Americans sadly have significantly higher rates of a slew of negative mental illnesses, including suicide. Clubs like GSAs can provide safe places for LGBT teens to congregate, build vitally necessary social relationships and learn they aren’t alone. All of these are mitigating factors against mental illness and suicide.

Intuitively, this makes sense. But the finding that I think is more worth examining is why GSAs are potentially tied to lower suicide rates in heterosexuals. First, a disclaimer: It is worth noting that this study is correlational, not causational. In other words, while lower suicide rates and GSAs appear to be related, the lower suicide rates may not be a direct result of GSAs. Indeed, it is possible that there are more GSAs because of lower suicide rates, or that a third factor (such ass wealth of a school district, education attainment of parents, etc) is tied to both GSAs and lower suicide rates.

However, the fact that both of these items seem related (regardless of the relationship) begs the question: What is the relationship between a more tolerant society for everyone, not just the directly affected groups?

This is one worth thinking about, because it can help change the frame of how we view ideals like inclusion an tolerance. We often have conversations about how they can positively impact effected groups – how marriage equality leads to better lives for LGBT individuals, how a lack of racism can improve the lives of impacted groups, etc.

But I want to change that perspective for a second.

I certainly think I’m not a racist person, and I can’t imagine what it is like to be that way. Being racist means you walk around which large chunks of anger, bitterness and resentment inside you all the time. Doesn’t that lead to higher levels of depression, of anxiety, and self-destructive behaviors?

That’s what I want to know. And it makes me wonder if more studies like this aren’t available – ones which show that a more tolerant and more inclusive society is better for everyone, not just affected groups.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, your experience and if more research is available which proves or disproves this theory. Please let us know what you think in the comments below!

 

Six Questions: An interview with Laura Silverman, Author of You Asked for Perfect

Today’s interview is with Laura Silverman, who wrote You Asked For Perfect, the story of a super smart, LGBT teenager who is trying to learn to navigate his life in a high pressure world. From the summary:

Senior Ariel Stone is the perfect college applicant: first chair violinist, dedicated volunteer, active synagogue congregant, and expected valedictorian. And he works hard―really hard―to make his success look effortless. A failed calculus quiz is not part of his plan. Not when he’s number one. Not when his peers can smell weakness like a freshman’s body spray.

Ariel throws himself into studying. His friends will understand if he skips a few plans, and he can sleep when he graduates. But as his grade continues to slide, Ariel realizes he needs help and reluctantly enlists a tutor, his classmate Amir. The two have never gotten along, but Ariel has no other options.

Ariel discovers he may not like calculus, but he does like Amir. Except adding a new relationship to his long list of commitments may just push him past his limit.

1) Do you think that experiencing mental illness is a requirement for any author who deals with this topic?
I don’t think it’s a requirement, but I do think if a writer is ever writing outside of their own personal experience, it should be done with a great amount of both research and empathy.
2) Your book obviously deals with a gay teenager, a group which faces enormous mental health pressures. Can you talk a little about writing a character with mental health challenges from that perspective?
Ariel is a bisexual teen, but his anxiety in the book is related to academic pressure not his sexuality. I wanted to write a book about the extreme academic pressure teens deal with today, as I believe it’s something so many teens experience but is rarely written about.
3) As I type this questions, your book is number one in “Teen & Young Adult Jewish Fiction.” What has your experience been like in terms of the interaction between religion and mental health?
I grew up in a very supportive Jewish community and wanted to reflect that in this novel. Ariel’s Jewish community is a place of comfort and warmth for him. Although services certainly take up more time in his busy schedule, adding additional stress, overall his Jewish community is an incredibly supportive aspect of his life. And his rabbi is actually one of the people who helps him the most throughout the book.
4) Your book addresses many of the societal pressures which teenagers face today. What do you think any of us can do to try to tamp down those pressures?
I think we need to send the message that grades do not define you. There’s so much pressure to excel in school and get into top universities, but while education is important, it should be about the learning experience not about top SAT scores and AP credits.
5) Many of the reviews of You Asked For Perfect note that you seem to perfectly capture what it’s like to be a teenager in a high pressure environment. How did you do that??
I went to one of those high schools! Although my experience wasn’t as intense as my protagonist Ariel, I experienced the exhaustion of taking multiple AP classes, taking extra electives, the pressure to excel, the fear of scoring a low grade. I also did a lot of research for the book. I talked to high achieving students about their experiences and watched documentaries and read books.
6) If you could do it again – anything you’d do differently?
With the book? I wouldn’t change a thing!