Pride Month is a time for healing
By Loretta Graceffo
June is Pride Month, a time to celebrate the diversity, creativity and resilience of the LGBTQ+ community. But despite the incredible strides society has made towards LGBTQ+ acceptance and representation, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to gay liberation. Even LGBTQ+ people are proud of who they are, their identity can come with unique challenges and long-lasting trauma. Though Pride Month is coming to a close, the LGBTQ+ community can benefit from healing, self-love and mental wellness a priority all year long.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, LGB adults are more than twice as likely as heterosexual adults to experience mental illness. Transgender adults are even more at risk, being four times as likely as their cisgender peers to experience a mental health condition. Members of the LGBTQ+ community also have a higher rate of experiencing addiction, homelessness and suicidal thoughts.
There are a variety of factors behind these statistics. Far too often, LGBTQ+ individuals face stereotyping, bullying, rejection from their families or even verbal and physical abuse. Being low-income or a person of color can add another layer to the marginalization and discrimination.
“When you’re in a disenfranchised population, it can feel like you’re going to be questioned for your existence,” said Laura Eggerling, a therapist for Adult Family Health Services. “This can undermine your sense of self worth and your identity, which can lead to anxiety or depression.”
Even when most people in their life are accepting, cultural conditions can mean that many LGBTQ+ individuals carry a deep sense of shame-- often without even realizing it. If you are an LGBTQ+ person who is struggling with your self image, it’s a good idea to seek out a therapist who can help you navigate these feelings in a safe and healthy way.
“While a client’s reactions to the hurtful actions of others may be deciphered easily, damaging thoughts about themselves-- such as feeling guilty or ashamed of their identity-- can be more subtle and harder to uncover,” said Chrysa Lawson, a therapist for AFHS. “Clinicians should be thoughtful in assessing for such internalization and in finding ways to help clients embrace all parts of themselves.”
In the past, mental health professionals have contributed to LGBTQ+trauma by labeling homosexuality as a mental illness and promoting harmful practices like conversion therapy. Though these tactics are no longer endorsed by physiatrists, it’s critical that mental health facilities recognize this painful history and take steps to create an environment that is inclusive, accessible and accepting of all people.
“Counselors have a responsibility to help clients develop a sense of trust and security in the therapy space,” said Lara. “That way, LGBTQ+ people can come to understand their identity as a strength.”
Though therapy is often viewed as an individual pursuit, it’s crucial for therapists to consider societal factors at play when treating their clients. Healing for LGBTQ+ individuals can only happen when their unique experiences are seen and acknowledged.
“It’s important to address the discrimination and stigma LGBTQ+ people face, as well as whatever they’re going through internally,” said Angelique Zaks, an AFHS case manager. “We need to treat all aspects of what people are going through, and make changes in society, so that in the future, people don’t have to go through the same thing.”