Depression doesn’t discriminate —but people can, and stigma, discrimination, and victimization are among the many reasons why LGBTQIA+ depression rates remain consistently high.
Depression, clinically known as major depressive disorder (MDD), is found everywhere, all around the world. It’s a condition that involves feelings of despair, hopelessness, self-guilt, and a loss of motivation for even simple tasks.
Depression can have many underlying causes, but persistent psychological stress is recognized as a contributing factor. Stigma, discrimination, and a lack of legal protections, are examples of uncontrollable stress factors that can contribute to depression among certain marginalized groups.
This is especially true for people who are LGBTQIA+. A 2021 Gallup poll estimated more than 7% of people in the United States do not identify as heterosexual. That’s approximately 23 million people who may be experiencing disparities related to mental health.
Marginalized populations experience a number of health disparities, and the area of mental health is no exception.
Social pressures are made worse by barriers to care, and LGBTQIA+ challenges can be further compounded by additional disparities related to race, culture, and socioeconomic status.
Intersectionality is the term used to describe how individual factors come together to shape your unique experience.
When it comes to LGBTQIA+ issues, for example, you may have additional considerations, like race or culture, that influence (positively or negatively) your outcomes.
An example of how intersectionality can be seen in LGBTQIA+ communities through suicide risk disparities. In 2021, research found that, while LGBTQIA+ individuals had higher rates of suicide ideation and attempts overall, race, ethnicity, and age created varying risk levels.
LGBTQIA+ communities experiences higher rates of suicide attempts and suicide ideation.
Ellie Borden, a psychotherapist and corporate executive officer at Mind By Design, Toronto, Canada, explains many obstacles feed into the numbers.
According to GLAAD’s 2022 Accelerating Acceptance survey, as many as 70% of people in LGBTQIA+ communities report dealing with discrimination.
The Center for American Progress (CAP) 2022 study found 3 in 5 LGBTQI+ adults indicated discrimination had a moderate to significant impact on their mental wellbeing.
“LGBTQ+ individuals often experience discrimination in various settings, such as the workplace, healthcare, and education. This can lead to feelings of isolation, low self-esteem, and hopelessness,” says Borden.
Stigma is an inaccurate perception of disgrace. It’s common when misinformation and fear control how people interact with you.
Borden explains stigma can create feelings of shame and self-doubt, especially in areas where LGBTQIA+ identities aren’t well accepted or in circumstances where you feel you can’t live openly.
Lack of legal protections
Not everyone feels safe to embrace an LGBTQIA+ identity. Not only do many areas of the world lack protection against hate crimes and discrimination, sometimes the protectors aren’t protecting.
Transgender people, for example experience higher rates of police brutality and criminalization, compared to cisgendered people.
“Family rejection is a common experience for LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly those from conservative or religious backgrounds,” Borden says. “This can lead to a loss of support and a sense of alienation.”
Many people report their healthcare needs aren’t met by providers and they feel they aren’t treated with dignity or respect.
Victimization is prevalent in LGBTQIA+ communities, with higher rates of harassment, physical and sexual violence, and bullying.
Borden indicates these experiences often directly lead to feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and depression.
Lack of representation
When you’re part of an underrepresented group, it can be an uphill battle to try and gain equality in areas where you’re underserved.
Lack of LGBTQIA+ people in positions of authority can slow down progress related to policy changes and general accommodations. It can also perpetuate stereotypes because realistic representations of LGBTQIA+ people aren’t being made mainstream.
You’re taking this journey alone. Not only do you have millions of other people facing the same challenges of discrimination, stigma, and victimization, you’re also in the company of a diverse group of people living with depression.
Learning ways to cope can help give you prevent experiences beyond your control, like discrimination, from taking a heavy toll on your mental wellbeing.
When possible, speaking with a mental health professional is always recommended. If you don’t have access to quality in-person care, many LGBTQIA+ therapists now offer online services from across the country.
Borden also recommends:
- establishing a support network by reaching out to friends, family members, or other LGBTQIA+ community members
- focusing on caring for your own physical and emotional needs through self-care, like meditation, art, or journaling
- participating in activities that bring you joy and connection with others
“It is also critical to challenge negative thoughts, advocate for oneself, and seek resources to help with depression,” she adds. “LGBTQ+ people can improve their mental health and overall quality of life by taking proactive steps to manage depression.”
Suicide prevention, safe spaces, and helpful resources
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, but if you’re considering self-harm or suicide, immediate help is available by calling the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 or by dialing 988 to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
To find LGBTQIA+ healthcare services, you can visit:
- The Healthcare Equality Index
- The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association’s Provider Directory
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
For additional resources, advocacy, and support services, try visiting:
You don’t have to be LGBTQIA+ to be an advocate for those who are LGBTQIA+.
Borden says steps you can take to help reduce disparities include:
- educating yourself about LGBTQIA+ issues, terminology, and experiences
- listening to loved ones without judgment, validating their experiences
- speaking out against discrimination and transphobic remarks and behaviors
- attending events that support LGBTQIA+ communities
- writing to your government representatives to advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights and protections
- donating time or funds to LGBTQIA+ organizations
- celebrating accomplishments and milestones for your LGBTQIA+ loved ones
LGBTQIA+ communities face a number of obstacles that can contribute to higher rates of depression, such as victimization, discrimination, and stigma.
While many of these things are out of your control, you improve your mental wellness by cultivating ways to cope with depression and finding ways to be an advocate of LGBTQIA+ equality — for yourself or for a loved one.