By Emily Zelaya, (she/ella), Mid-Pacific Regional Director at PFLAG National
There are countless stressors that members of LGBTQ+ communities face – whether from discrimination based on sexuality, gender identity or gender expression, alienation from family, anxiety surrounding the Respect for Marriage Act, as well as many other ongoing civil rights political battles. Moreover, many LGBTQ+ individuals face additional discrimination based on race, color, and ethnicity.
Because of these factors, it is crucial to end the stigma that surrounds mental health conditions for the well-being of our community. We need to create a safe space for our LGBTQ+ communities to speak up about anxiety, depression, and other common mental health conditions – because without a safe haven, many of us will self-isolate and these symptoms and conditions will only worsen.
Let’s also acknowledge that insurance companies and medical institutions are often the sources of further discrimination – especially for our transgender and gender diverse community members. This creates additional hurdles for LGBTQ+ individuals to access healthcare and mental health support. This only reiterates the need to create a safe place where we can lift each other up and help to identify different resources and tools for treatment.
So, what can we all do to lend support and create a healthy space?
The first step is to remove stigmatizing language when referring to mental illness. For example, use words that lead with compassion instead of words that carry judgement. Let’s acknowledge that many of us struggle with untreated mental health conditions. By removing stigmatizing language from our vocabulary, we indicate to others that we are open and ready to listen and that we will not judge them for what they are about to share with us.
The second step is to educate ourselves and then others on what signs to look out for if someone is experiencing symptoms of a serious mental health condition such as: suddenly acting out of character, self-isolation, or no longer finding enjoyment in common activities. These signs may indicate struggles with mental health.
Lastly, if you know someone who may be struggling, reach out to ask if they are okay. Let them know you are there to listen and not judge. If they decide to seek treatment, stay by their side, and ask if they need help with identifying the right health care provider for them – knowing they may encounter discrimination along the way. Reinforce how much courage it takes to make the first step in seeking help.
We must all do our part to fight stigma around mental health conditions. Let’s show the people we care about that they are not alone and that a rich life filled with love, health, and purpose is possible.
If you want to join us in Sacramento County to end stigma and discrimination around mental health conditions, visit StopStigmaSacramento.org. You will find information for LGBTQ communities and additional information specific to transgender and gender diverse communities. Additionally, there are conversation starters available to help you start a dialogue with someone you care about that may be struggling.
At a national level, PFLAG works to make sure that all people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer are not only valued by society, but take pride in and value themselves. We do this through peer-to-peer support, education on issues important to our communities, and advocacy for inclusive policies and laws. Learn more at https://pflag.org/ and get involved.