Supporting the LGBTQ Community
Individuals with mental health conditions often face stigma. This negativity can be compounded for those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) community. Fear of “coming out” and being discriminated against due to sexual orientation and gender identities can impair mental health.
Angie Bowen, a counselor with the Bowen Wellness Center who specializes in LGBTQ mental health concerns, moved here from Wisconsin years ago. Noting her progression of LGBTQ awareness in Central Arkansas, she said, “I went from ‘Where are they?’ to ‘Oh my gosh, they’re hiding’ to ‘Oh wow, they’re hiding because of the hostile area we’re in.’ There’s no way an LGBTQ individual can emerge unscathed when he or she grows up in a culture of condemnation or one that makes you feel like you wish you didn’t exist.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), LGBTQ individuals are 3 times more likely than others to experience a mental health issue. Prejudice and other biases might lead to depression, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, thoughts of suicide and substance abuse. Rates of mental health conditions are particularly high in bisexual and questioning individuals and those who live in fear or choose not to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity.
NAMI statistics show that suicide is one of the leading causes of death for LGBTQ people, ages 10 to 24. Family support plays a major role in preventing suicide. According to NAMI, individuals who faced rejection after coming out to their families were more than 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide than someone who was accepted.
Finding a mental health professional to counsel with can be a lifesaver for LGBTQ individuals, especially for those who have no support system. LGBTQ youth are particularly affected. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, because LGBTQ youth live in a society that discriminates against and stigmatizes homosexuals they are more vulnerable to mental health issues than heterosexual youth. This vulnerability is magnified for homeless LGBTQ youth.
Penelope Poppers, founder and executive director of Lucie’s Place in Little Rock, said there is a huge lack of societal responsibility to ensure the basic rights of LGBTQ individuals. Being ostracized leads to mental health conditions, which people don’t tend to talk about anyway, she said, and isolation is even greater for LGBTQ individuals. At Lucie’s Place, a safe haven for homeless LGTBQ young adults, there is a focus on immediate needs, Poppers said, “but we’re really trying to help our clients focus on the future as well, and this includes dealing with their mental health.”
That can be difficult as many of them have been kicked out of their homes, and they face many challenges and stressors as minorities “on the street.”
Lucie’s Place, a drop-in center, assists young adults, ages 18 to 25, providing safe living environments, job training and counseling services. Poppers established the organization in 2012. Last year, they served about 70 people offering immediate assistance with food, clothing, transportation and communication services, Poppers said. Her goal is to open a home for homeless LGBTQ individuals to help them become productive members of society.
Finding a trustworthy counselor is a tough issue for the LGBTQ community as well, Bowen said. “I’ve had countless clients who reported being coerced or strong armed at some point by so-called Christian counselors for what they call ‘reparative therapy.’ These individuals are looking for someone who doesn’t judge them or try to ‘fix’ them.”
In addition to in-person counseling, Bowen recommends online support. The Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition (ArTEC) website, artranscoalition.org, is a good place to start. “ArTEC is a very good resource and they help safely plug people into online groups,” Bowen said.