Psychological disorders are a disproportionate burden of suffering for sexual minorities. They use healthcare services more often than heterosexuals, undergoing more psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy treatments than other groups. Furthermore, they report more negative treatment experiences. Here are some of the unique mental health challenges of sexual minorities. Despite the growing awareness of these issues, few people realize how much it affects their well-being.
Researchers have returned to the study of the mental health of LGBTQ individuals, finding that they have higher rates of substance use disorders, affective disorders, and suicide than heterosexuals. Although this finding is not entirely conclusive, researchers believe it is related to the increasing stigma imposed on these groups, creating an unhealthy social environment. Distal stress, or minority stress, has been termed one of the most common mental health challenges of sexual minorities.
In addition to social discrimination, minority stress results from internalized homophobia and other harmful psychological processes. The causes of these psychological processes can be social and individual, including peer relationships, family conflicts, and expectations of rejection. However, the stressors are also responsible for creating a climate of fear and anxiety. For this reason, addressing minority stress can be a key step in reducing or eliminating this problem.
In contrast to racial or ethnic minorities, sexual minorities are significantly more likely to experience depression or anxiety than other groups. Therefore, according to Meyer’s minority stress theory, these groups are at an increased risk for physical and mental health problems. In addition, a recent study examined the relationship between perceived distal stress and proximal stressors for sexual minorities.
According to Hayes, this finding suggests that proximal stressors do not moderate the negative effects of anti-bisexual discrimination. Among the most common proximal stressors, anti-bisexual discrimination and anticipated negativity were positively associated with depression and anxiety. However, resilience could not mitigate the effect of these discrimination-related proximal stressors.
Studies have shown that adolescents who identify as LGBTQ or as non-binary have higher suicide rates than their heterosexual peers. Similarly, 40% of transgender adults report at least one attempt at suicide. Yet, despite this high suicide rate, fewer than 5% of the U.S. population is a sexually minorities. And while mental health services often lump all sexual minority youths together, each sub-community faces unique challenges, experiences, and rates of mental illness.
Studies examining the mental health of members of the LGBTQ community have not been easy. It is because most studies do not include these members. However, a recent study by Hottes et al. (2021) provided an important example of examining the mental health of members of the LGBTQ community. The findings of this study show that sexual minorities experience higher rates of mental distress than other populations, which may be one of the reasons behind their increased suicide rates.
Mental health services often fail to reach LGBTQI+ youth because of stigma and shame. According to McDermott (2015), sexual minority youth are less likely to seek help for mental health problems due to the stigma associated with their identities. Internet forums provide a means for LGBTQI+ youth to connect and find support. In addition, they can use these forums to discuss issues affecting their lives and share their experiences with others.
This theoretical framework adapts psychiatric epidemiology and stigma literature to describe the relationship between sexual minority identity and poor mental health. The framework proposes three central hypotheses:
- Stigma-related stress increases exposure to psychiatric disorders among LGBTQI populations.
- Increased social/interpersonal problems.
- Elevated emotion dysregulation and cognitive processes.
These elevated stressors contribute to the development of psychopathology among LGBT individuals.
Adverse childhood experiences
Adversity in childhood disproportionately impacts the lives of people of sexual minorities. The association between childhood adversity and poor health is well documented. Studies have linked adverse childhood experiences with HIV, lifetime alcohol dependence, and homelessness. Identifying the at-risk population is key to improving health outcomes and attainment.
Changes in a social environment
Numerous research studies have discussed changes in social environments and their impact on the lives of LGBTQ+ people. They show that greater openness has increased the value of sexual minority identity, but it also increases the burden of discrimination and the associated negative effects on mental health. As a result, there is a need for a better understanding of the relationship between openness and mental health, particularly about the effects of sexual minority identities on the general mental health of the population.
In addition to mental health services, changes in the social environment also affect the likelihood of sexual minority individuals seeking treatment. Therefore, public health experts need to consider these individuals’ experiences in determining how best to allocate resources. These experiences may include discrimination, violence, and hate crimes. Therefore, it may also affect the allocation of public funding to various mental health services. Moreover, this knowledge can help better deliver services to sexual minorities.