TAMPA, Fla. — Several organizations say people in the LGBTQ+ community have higher rates of depression and suicidal thoughts than their heterosexual counterparts.
Kiara McInnis, Cyana Howard and Adonté Belser are friends and are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. They met up in Cypress Point Park in Tampa to have a candid conversation about how their life experiences have impacted their mental health.
“I’ve always known I was different and, you know, I liked boys, but trying to figure that out and establish my own identity, but also having to deal with all that criticism and negativity of others bombarded (me). It was a lot on me,” said Adonté Belser.
"Like my mom and my dad, like, that niche has always been very supportive and loving and very protective, for the most part. But, like, the outside of that, like my parents’ parents, or their family, absolutely not," said Kiara McInnis.
“Growing up, like, my grandparents definitely on my dad’s side were not feeling the whole gay thing. When I popped up with my girlfriend, they were like, ‘you have an evil spirit,’ is what my grandma had to say and they stopped talking to me for a while,” said Cyana Howard.
According to a recent report by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 59% of LGBTQ+ adults are battling poor mental health. That is compared to 8.4% of the general adult population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
LaLencia Matthews, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, discussed what's contributing to that alarming statistic.
“Because the societal norm is heterosexuality, it’s not unusual for members of the LGBTQ+ community to be forced or learn to be forced to minimize their true selves or a part of themselves from the world,” said Matthews.
“I went to church every Sunday with my grandma,” said Howard. “And all I heard every single Sunday about man and women and anything other than that, it’s wrong and you’re just going to hell.”
Matthews said another issue is that many in the LGBTQ+ community oftentimes do not have access to mental health care services. She said finding a therapist who understands you and your struggle is essential and recommends a website called Psychology Today, which uses filters such as gender, type of therapy and price to find a therapist in your area.
“It also has that ability to say LGBTQ friendly, so that way it reduces the risks of being stigmatized by seeking out help,” said Matthews.
“I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression, like, since I was a kid,” said Howard.
Another concern is the rate of depression and suicidal ideation among LGBTQ+ children. That same Human Rights Campaign Foundation report found that 54% of LGBTQ+ children are battling symptoms of depression. That is compared to just 29% of non-LGBTQ children.
“LGBTQ young people are four times as likely as their heterosexual, cisgender peers to attempt suicide before they graduate high school. That should alarm everyone,” said Brandon Wolf with Equality Florida, the state's largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group.
Equality Florida is trying to reverse the trend of poor mental health among LGBTQ+ children with their “Safe and Healthy Schools” program, which they launched in 2016. It serves 64 of the 67 school districts in Florida.
“So, we launched our program that year to provide comprehensive training to administrators, educators, school board members, school officials to help them understand, not only how to create safe, healthy and inclusive school environments, but also how to be in adherence with federal non-discrimination laws,” said Wolf.
Wolf said though the program has been successful in many school districts, the passage of Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill could change that success rate. Supporters of the bill say it's meant to allow parents to determine if and when they want to talk to their children about LGBTQ+ topics, but Wolf said it impedes their ability to help at-risk children.
As for the three friends, they have gone through a lot in their lives, but they are optimistic that societal conditions will get better for those in the LGBTQ+ community, resulting in better mental health.
Here are some resources for help accessing mental health services: