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The Impact of Mental Health Disparities on the LGBTQ+ Community

Living with a mental health disorder can feel overwhelming and impede your ability to function in your daily life. According to “LGBTQ+ Communities and Mental Health” by Mental Health America (MHA), 5.8 million LGBTQ+ Americans reported experiencing a mental health disorder. For LGBTQ+ people, the need for resiliency is a fact of life. However, there are a variety of risk factors, disparities, and barriers to care that makes support and recovery particularly difficult.

At Insight Recovery Center, we believe every individual is intrinsically whole and has the capacity for healing. Understanding the experiences and needs of each individual is a fundamental part of the recovery process. Therefore, understanding how your experiences as a member of a marginalized community impacts your mental health opens the door for deeper healing.

Mental Health Risks for LGBTQ+ People

Our society is built around social constructs. A social construct can be defined as an idea or belief system that has been created and accepted by people in a society. For example, money is a social construct because it has as much value as we place on it.

Let’s look at popular brands like Nike. Why are Nike shoes more valuable than other shoes? Whether consciously or not, our society has agreed that Nike is more desirable because of the subjective attached value of sports, money, celebrity, and power ideals.

We often perceive ideals as concrete rather than the subjective, changeable things that they actually are. Therefore, when something does not fit within the belief system, it makes people uncomfortable, or worse, they become violent in an attempt to oppress the supposed other.

LGBTQ+ people break numerous social constructions like gender identity, gender expression, and sexual preferences. When parts of your identity do not match social ideals, you can be confronted with internal and external discomfort, hostility, discrimination, and systemic barriers to resources made readily available to other groups of people who fit within the construct.

According to the article “LGBTQI” by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), listed below are some of the additional mental health risk factors LGBTQ+ people experience:

  • Coming out: Harassment and or assault in social settings
  • Rejection: Loss of support from family and friends
  • Discrimination: Trauma, barred or limited access to resources, verbal, mental, and physical abuse, self-medicating with substances, and suicidal ideation and suicide
  • Homelessness: Due to family rejection, discrimination, and systemic barriers to support resources

These risk factors play a significant role in how LGBTQ+ people experience the world. Feelings of otherness from broad discrimination and rejection from your support system can negatively impact your mental health.


As MHA notes, increased experiences of discrimination along with adverse and traumatic events make mental health disorders more prevalent within the LGBTQ+ community. Moreover, societal issues and attitudes, access to care, and inadequate treatment in healthcare settings contribute to the prevalence of mental health disorders for LGBTQ+ people.

  • Prevalence:
    • Six times more likely to experience symptoms of depression
    • Twice as likely to feel suicidal
    • More than four times more likely to attempt suicide
  • Attitudes:
    • 51% experience sexual harassment
    • 57% experience non-sexual harassment
    • 51% experience violence over sexual orientation and or gender identity
  • Access to care:
    • Denied care
    • Implicit and explicit biases

Mental Health Challenges

According to an article from the Health SA Gesondheid, despite increasing legal protections for LBGTQ+ people, there are still numerous societal challenges that impact mental health and positive health outcomes.

Disparity Challenges

Listed below are some of the mental health challenges that LGBTQ+ people still continue to face:

  • Emotional distress:
    • Adverse childhood experiences
      • Sexual abuse
      • Physical abuse
      • Peer bullying
    • Social stressors
      • Discrimination
      • Bullying
    • Internal stressors
      • Homophobia
      • Assumed rejection
      • Concealment of identity
    • Internalization of negative societal views
      • Stress
      • Self-isolation
      • Lower self-esteem
  • Stigmatization:
    • Internalized stigma
      • May not share important health information
      • Avoid seeking treatment
    • Health-related stereotypes
      • Afraid to communicate with healthcare providers
      • Delays in seeking support
  • Victimization:
    • Harassment
    • Bullying
    • Increased violence
  • Discrimination:
    • Denied access to social structures
      • Housing
      • Employment
      • Education
      • Public accommodations
      • Exclusion from healthcare resources

How do these disparities impact access to mental health care for LGBTQ+ people?

Barriers to Care

As the article from Health SA Gesondheid notes, the lower social support and systemic exclusion LGBTQ+ people experience impact access to quality mental health care services deeply. Many LGBTQ+ people feel unheard in mental health and other healthcare settings. Research shows that many providers lack knowledge of LGBTQ+ issues and often engage in implicit and explicit biases that lead to untreated disorders like depression.

When mental health providers lack awareness of the needs of marginalized communities and dismiss their own potential biases, it causes long-term harm. If an LGBTQ+ person feels like or has experienced discrimination when seeking support, it diminishes the likelihood that they will seek support in the future. Moreover, mental health care barriers also increase negative health outcomes and mortality rates among LGBTQ+ people as they are left isolated from social and institutional support resources. How can we better support and serve LGBTQ+ people?

Building Inclusive Mental Health Care

You might think of representation, diversity, and inclusion as buzzwords, but these words in action can have a profoundly positive impact on marginalized people’s lives. For LGBTQ+ youth and young adults, in particular, who have even lower access to support resources and independence, inclusive services can support their mental well-being well into adulthood.

As noted in an article from SSM Mental Health, providing inclusive early intervention support is effective for improved mental health outcomes. Important factors in inclusive support can include:

  • Recognition
  • Connection
  • Belonging
  • Safety
  • Intelligibility
  • Agency
  • Autonomy

At Insight Recovery Center, our therapeutic approach to care is focused on treating the whole person. Recovery starts with a person-centered focus with empathy and commitment to your empowerment. With our evidence-based therapies and holistic approaches, you can discover your recovery. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, when you come to Insight Recovery Center, you will know that you are heard, loved, and supported for your long-term healing.

Systemic barriers limit the LGBTQ+ community’s access to mental health resources and support. LGBTQ+ people already experience increased risk factors for mental health disorders due to rejection from support networks and discrimination. The addition of systemic barriers to care further isolates the community and discourages people from seeking support. However, when mental health institutions commit to building inclusive services and expanding providers understanding of health biases, better health outcomes increase. At Insight Recovery Center, we believe in treating the whole person with a person-centered approach because all of you is fundamental to discovering your identity. In recovery, the whole person must be loved, heard, and supported for healing to happen. Call us at 828-845-8325 today.