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Honoring Pride Month: Q&A with Speaker Nefertiti Khemet on Overcoming the Stigmas Surrounding Mental Health in LGBTQ+ Communities

Pride Month is an opportunity to commemorate the history, contributions, and accomplishments of the LGBTQ+ community. It is also a chance to raise awareness of past and recent concerns that are still impacting the LGBTQ+ community – especially by supporting their mental health. It is important that we continue to do our part to stop the stigma and fight towards universal equality and love within all our communities.

Nefertiti Khemet is part of the Sacramento County Speakers Bureau and is a licensed clinician social worker. She is also the CEO and founder of Beyond Bars: A Restorative Justice Program whose goal is to engage with the African American community and provide access to affordable mental health care and case management services.

Her vision is to bring healing to the communities of marginalized and disempowered people, including queer people, by using the principles of Restorative Justice: relationship, respect, responsibility, repair, and reintegration. Nefertiti herself struggles with different types of lifelong and invisible illnesses and wants to spread the message that there is a beauty in asking for help.

Nefertiti had been homeschooled for most of her life and, because of that experience, didn’t feel like she was able to relate to other kids her age. Neither Nefertiti nor her parents recognized that she was struggling to manage a learning disability. Even though she continued to get good grades and did well in school, Nefertiti was struggling with an inattentive type of ADHD rather than the hyperactive type. This means that she didn’t show any extreme behaviors like many do when diagnosed with ADHD. Since ADHD is typically difficult to diagnose, she never spoke about her experiences because she thought that something was wrong with her and that she just needed to work harder. Once in college, Nefertiti was diagnosed with ADHD and a learning disability and tried multiple forms of treatment, therapy, and medications. Nefertiti’s journey with her mental health continues, but through it all she has gained confidence in herself, learned new coping skills for managing her mental health symptoms, and created new routines that work for her.  

In solidarity with Pride Month, Nefertiti contributed responses to how people can overcome the stigmas surrounding mental health in LGBTQ+ communities and how people can make a difference.

  1. What does Pride Month mean to you? 
    A celebration of all things queer and being oneself without fear of reprisal. Although recently this has been disturbed by those who wish to harm us and those who fear our freedom will impose on theirs. 
  2. Including depression, what are some of the top mental health challenges faced within the LGBTQ+ community?
    Those who identify as LGBTQ+ often suffer from anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal ideation. In fact, LGBTQ individuals are almost three times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety. While no two individuals are the same, many LGBTQ+ individuals live with one or multiple mental illnesses. 
    Overall, two-thirds of people with a diagnosable mental illness never seek professional help. This is due to a variety of factors and challenges including, but not limited to: lack of awareness or knowledge to identify features of mental illness, lack of awareness about symptoms of mental illness and about how to access health and behavioral health services, discrimination, and self-stigma.
  3. What are ways people with loved ones in the LQBTQ+ community can make a difference?
    As the LGBTQ+ community faces persistent bias and discrimination, loved ones of those who identify as LGBTQ + can make a difference by being active allies publicly and in private. While it’s important to stand up to inequities when observed and support LGBTQ+ causes, it’s just as important to be there for these individuals and support their mental health. Research has shown that depression impacts members of the LGBTQ+ community at higher rates than straight and cisgender folks. Family and friends can show up by using conversation starters to check in when triggering events happen (i.e., the shooting at Club Q or Tennessee’s ban on drag shows) and listening to them when they are feeling down.
  4. People often suffer in silence due to misconceptions and stigmas surrounding mental health issues especially in LGBTQ+ communities. What advice would you give to individuals who want to seek treatment but are afraid of how they will be perceived by others?
    Mental health is just like physical health. It would be a great disservice to yourself to not get services for any physical illness, just as it would be to not get help for any mental health illness. There is great support out there, you just have to reach out to find it. 
  5. What are some actionable tips for LGBTQ+ people to cope with depression?
    Depression can often feel isolating, but it’s important to understand that you are not alone. I work with Stop Stigma Sacramento, which seeks to reduce stigma and discrimination in Sacramento County by providing mental health information, resources, and support to individuals and families. We encourage those who struggling with a mental health condition to:
    • Find a creative outlet to manage and relieve depressive feelings.
    • Lean into your trusted community – you are not alone.
    • Reach out for help! Speak up and reach out to a licensed physician, Employee Assistance Program (EAP), or mental health professional for help – therapy can be incredibly supportive of one’s mental health journey and there are many therapists that are queer themselves and gendering affirming.
    • Find groups of people that are like you and support mental wellness. Identify those support people in your own community that understand mental health and stay close to them. Do research on mental wellness and reach out to mental health resources.

I encourage LGBTQ+ people coping with depression to check out programs like these to learn about resources that are helping create safe spaces for mental health conversations and share their stories to inspire others.

  • What are some ways that people can support the LQBTG+ community not just during Pride month, but throughout the year?
    Buy local queer products, support your own queer community, show your support in community settings, and show your ally ship with pride flags throughout the year.

It is important for us all to continue to stand in unity and advocate for all human rights and the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community beyond Pride Month. For more information visit the Stop Stigma Sacramento website.