Mental health and the LGBTQ+ community


How non-LGBTQ+ individuals treat those who are LGBTQ+ today is changing, but there is still a long way to go when eliminating prejudice and discrimination. Although no one’s experience is the same, it is important to recognize that due to their circumstances, LGBTQ+ individuals have a higher risk of mental health issues.

There are many different factors to this such as growing up LGBTQ+, coming out and having community support.

Growing up LGBTQ+

“Every LGBTQ+ adult was once an LGBTQ+ child.”[1]

Research shows that those who are LGBTQ+ have been from birth.[1] Even as children, their orientation and gender identity is a part of who they are.

Unfortunately, we don’t address these topics with children. Our avoidance sends the message that these personality traits are bad – that who they are is wrong. By doing this, we teach LGBTQ+ children to conceal part of who they are and remove their ability to express themselves fully.

Similar to other minorities within our society, LGBTQ+ children grow up with a lack of both representation and recognition. This fosters an environment of invisibility, contributing to feelings of fear and shame that lead to loneliness and isolation. Joe Kort, licensed sex and relationship therapist, identifies this behaviour towards LGBTQ+ children as a form of covert-abuse with possibly devastating effects.[1]

Coming out

Coming-out can be stressful. Even if you have a loving family and friends, coming out means change, good or bad.

However, suppressing part of who you are can have severe negative effects on mental health and can manifest in the form of trauma. In the case of LGBTQ+ individuals, this would come from the suppression of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Staying in the closet prolongs this trauma. However, it isn’t always an option for the LGBTQ+ individual to be completely open about who they are. This can be due to multiple factors, such as culture, age, family, or fear of abandonment or harm. In some cases, individuals don’t want to come out due to valuing their culture over their identity.

It is important to note here that LGBTQ+ individuals don’t have to come out if they are not comfortable or do not feel safe.

Importance of community and support

LGBTQ youth who come from families that do not accept who they are, are over 8 times more likely to attempt suicide than those with accepting families.[1]

The importance of community and support for LGBTQ+ individuals cannot be stressed enough. An accepting inclusive community can be a way to break free from depression and isolation. It is a place of belonging and a place of understanding. For many within the LGBTQ+ community, it is a safe space. A place where they are able to be and express themselves.

Finding support for mental health issues can also be an issue for those within the LGBTQ+ community, as they may face challenges in accessing mental health services that are appropriate and inclusive. These could be in addition to struggles with discrimination regarding race, gender, disability or income.

Facts and figures

The suicide rate for LGB[2] teens is 30%. Additionally, suicide attempts by LGBT youth are 4-6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse.[1] Furthermore:[1]

  • 47% of LGBT say they do not fit into their community, versus 16% of non-LGBT youth

  • 49% of LGBT youth have an adult in the family they can turn to for help, versus 79% of non-LGBT youth

  • Sexual minority youth or teens that identify themselves as Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual are bullied 2-3 times more than heterosexuals

  • Almost all transgender students (89%) have been verbally harassed in the past year because of their sexual orientation and gender expression

While suicide is never the result of one cause, bullying can have a long-lasting effect on suicide risk and mental health.

Calgary Counselling Centre is here to help.  If you, or someone you know, needs help we’re here for you, with no wait list and no financial barriers. Learn more about our counselling services.

[1] Kort, J. (2018). LGBTQ clients in therapy: clinical issues and treatment. W.W. Norton & Company

[2] This study only evaluated the suicide rate for LGB teens, however it is assumed that the rate is similar, if not higher, for other individuals within the LGBTQ+ community.

Evans Hunt