Are LGBT Americans more susceptible to depression?
Numerous studies suggest discrimination, homophobia and even family rejection leave this population particularly vulnerable to this condition and other mental health disorders. And while there are no reliable statistics to indicate specific rates of depression among LGBT Americans, local mental health providers with whom the Washington Blade recently spoke said the holiday season can exacerbate symptoms.
“The holiday season has a lot of associations with family, togetherness and unfortunately many people in the LGBT community have experienced some family loss, whether it was the loss of relationships, being ostracized or not accepted,” Dr. Gregory Jones of District Psychotherapy Associates in D.C. told the Blade. More than 70 percent of his patients are LGBT. “So often times during the holiday season, people feel reminded of this.”
Dr. Marc Dalton, director of Dalton Psychiatric Services in D.C., noted family along with money and general hard times contribute to depression during the holidays. Like Jones, he said relationships with friends, family and significant others “can become more paramount” during this time of the year.
“Stress is more relevant when you have to leave and go back to your family,” Dalton said. “When you have trouble with family accepting you and understanding your lifestyle, the stress of bringing someone back into that environment and how they’re going to treat that person, how they are going to treat you together. It’s already stressful for someone in heterosexual relationships when they bring someone into the family and having to navigate those social waters.”
Dalton added family members with different political and religious beliefs can cause further stress. He and Jones both noted LGBT people are sometimes unable to visit relatives because they have either shunned or rejected them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
“I often times encourage them to kind of turn to family of choice, so they often then feel more susceptible to feelings of rejection from friends if they’re available,” Jones said. “It’s a time of year that is a mile-marker that most everyone can recognize, think back and reflect on their experiences. For those who do not have an ideal support system, the holidays can be tough.”
Depression affects estimated 17 million Americans
The American Psychological Association notes those with depression may exhibit a lack of interest and enjoyment from daily tasks, significant weight loss (or gain,) insomnia and a lack of energy and concentration. Some may experience persistent thoughts of death and even suicide.
The 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. Doctors Arnold Grossman of New York University and Anthony D’Augelli of Pennsylvania State University noted in a 2007 study in the American Association of Suicidology that nearly 50 percent of young transgender people have “seriously” considered suicide, and a quarter of them have attempted to take their own life.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates 17 million American adults live with depression during any given year-long period. Medications, psychotherapy and/or a combination of both treatments can prove effective in treating those with depression.
Stigma remains barrier to treatment
The Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 students, six teachers and administrators and the alleged gunman’s mother dead has sparked renewed calls to reform the country’s mental health system. Stigma, however, remains a significant barrier to those with depression and other mental health conditions from seeking treatment.
“People internalize that going into therapy or seeking mental health treatment is a sign of weakness,” Jones said. “I actually consider it a sign of strength. It’s knowing when to reach out and when things are beyond your scope of control and abilities.”
Access to mental health care providers can pose another challenge.
Those of a higher socio-economic status who live in D.C. and other urban areas may have better access to psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health providers. Those who rely upon an insurance company or public assistance for their health care, however, may not have as much access to affordable and competent mental health care professionals.
An additional hurdle those with depression and other conditions face is a lack of mental health providers who are comfortable treating their LGBT patients’ unique needs.
“Even though we’re trained in our particular medical school or if you’re a psychologist if you go through your Ph.D. studies or your clinical studies, some folks are still not good at it, are not ‘gay’ or LGBT-affirming,” Dalton said. “That’s really important for a lot of my friends who I’ve talked to. They really want that security.”
The D.C. Department of Mental Health’s website contains a list of local providers and other information for those who are suffering from depression and other mental health disorders. Whitman-Walker Health offers group therapy sessions and a variety of other services and treatment options to those with mental health-related issues.
The Trevor Project, the Mautner Project and the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists provide additional resources on suicide prevention and LGBT-specific information on other mental and general health-related issues.