Exploring one’s gender identity and sexual preferences is an important part of life that all people go through. While some people undergo this process seamlessly, others are left questioning where and how they fit in. For people in the LGBTQ community, exploring gender identity and sexuality can be confusing and frightening. While questioning one’s sexuality is difficult in and of itself, LGBTQ individuals are often subject to discrimination and oppression. Resultantly, LGBTQ people are more likely to have mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, than their heterosexual counterparts.
- Gender Identity: For people in the LGBTQ community, the process of defining one’s gender identity can be tumultuous. Research indicates that the process follows a typical pattern, beginning with one denying their attraction to the same sex. This period of denial can be emotionally exhausting, and can have negative consequences on overall mental health. The denial stage is typically followed by a gradual acceptance of one’s gender identity and experimentation with the same sex. However, negative feelings about one’s gender identity often resurge as significant romantic relationships end.
- Bullying at School: Research has shown that LGBTQ youth are more likely than heterosexual youth to be bullied and victimized at school. Even if LGBTQ individuals are not directly bullied, the homophobic attitudes and behaviours of other students can have a negative impact. Some research indicates that LGBTQ youth who are bullied at school engage in more risky behaviours, such as unsafe sex or substance abuse.
- Work: LGBTQ individuals face different challenges than heterosexual people when it comes to their jobs. Both historians and the courts have acknowledged that LGBT workers have faced a long history of employment discrimination. As indicated by research, discrimination and harassment in the workplace can negatively impact fair wages and the physical and mental health of LGBTQ individuals.  Surveys have documented that discrimination is present in hiring processes, job retention, and job promotions. 
- Romantic Relationships: Internalized homophobia occurs when an LGBTQ individual unknowingly takes on others’ negative attitudes towards LGBTQ people and directs them at him/herself. Research has shown that individuals who experience internalized homophobia are less likely to be satisfied with their romantic relationships. Intimate partner violence is another problem commonly seen in LGBTQ relationships. Some researchers theorize that the psychological stress of being a minority individual contributes to one’s likelihood to perpetrate partner violence. Intimate partner violence can lead to poor mental health outcomes for LGBTQ individuals, such as Depression and Substance Abuse.
- Having Children: For LGBTQ individuals, the decision to have children comes with different challenges than those faced by heterosexual individuals. LGBTQ individuals and couples have several options to choose from when deciding how to bring a child into their lives, including surrogacy, adoption, and self-insemination. All of these options are costly and many involve lengthy legal proceedings. While Canada does allow same-sex couples to adopt, international options are limited by other countries’ prohibitions of LGBTQ adoptions. While surrogacy is a popular option amongst gay men, it is an expensive process that generally requires the guidance of a specialized agency and lawyers. For lesbian women, medical or self-insemination is a viable option that is also costly. Women who choose this option are often faced with inconsistent pricing, home checks, and legal restrictions on the sexuality of the sperm donor.
- Family Relationships: Studies have shown that LGBTQ individuals often experience challenging relationships with family members when they “come out.” More specifically, youth who think their parents will react negatively to their sexual orientation or gender identity are more likely to abuse substances.  Parental rejection has also been linked to poor mental health, depression, attempted suicide, and risky sexual behaviour. 
- Mental Health: Discrimination, bullying, and homophobic attitudes can have drastic negative effects on LGBTQ individuals. LGBTQ youth are especially at risk for adverse mental health outcomes and have a higher risk of suicide than their heterosexual peers. Depression is another common issue for LGBTQ individuals and is caused in part by social stigmatization.
- The number of same-sex married couples tripled between 2006 and 2011. This increase occurred after Canada passed the Civil Marriage Act in 2005, whereby same sex marriage was legalized.
- In 2014, 33% of homosexual and bisexual individuals reported that their days were “quite a bit” or “extremely stressful,” compared to 26.7% of heterosexuals. 
- Adolescent youth who have been rejected by their families due to their sexual preferences are 8 times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers.
- Sixty-eight percent of transsexual youth, 55% of lesbian/gay students, and 42% of gay/bisexual students reported being verbally harassed about their gender identification or sexual orientation.
- A 2005 study found that gay men were more likely than heterosexual men to have consulted a medical specialist or mental health provider in the prior year.
- Lesbian women were more likely than heterosexual women to have seen a family doctor in the year prior to the survey. 
- Forty-six percent of gay and lesbian victims of hate crimes were injured as a result of the incident. Only 25% of heterosexual victims of hate crimes were injured in similar incidents.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT can help LGBTQ individuals work through feelings of anxiety, depression, and low self-worth. In addition to adopting new thoughts, CBT can assist LGBTQ people in changing their maladaptive behaviours (such as drinking alcohol in isolation) with more effective ones (such as talking about what is happening).14 Studies have also shown that CBT administered in a group environment can reduce symptoms of Depression, isolation, and can enhance self-esteem in LGBTQ participants.  One study of CBT showed that after 10 group sessions, gay and bisexual male participants had significant reductions in depressive symptoms, alcohol use problems, sexual compulsivity, and risky sexual behaviours.
- Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT): EFT is a type of therapy that can be used for couples, families, and individuals. It focuses primarily on repairing relationships and creating healthier attachments with oneself and with others. This form of therapy embraces a positive view of LGBTQ identities and addresses the negative influences that homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism have had on the LGBTQ individuals and their relationships with their partners and families. Although EFT has been extensively researched on heterosexual population, EFT has been also successfully used with homosexual couples. This is because the focus of the therapy is on creating a stronger relational bond and connection, which is a basic human need found in every person and is wired in our brains. Helping LGBTQ couples develop strong and healthy relationships and communication styles often serves as a protective function for societal discrimination and various other stressors that happen in life. 
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): As previously mentioned, the minority status of LGBTQ individuals often results in their victimization via discrimination, rejection, and abuse. Although the abuse is not always life-threatening, it is traumatic none-the-less. Traumatic events can lead to the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a psychological disorder that can cause debilitating fear, intrusive memories, and difficulties bonding with others. Within the LGBTQ community, researchers are recognizing that bullying, family rejection, and verbal threats can result in PTSD symptoms. EMDR is a proven psychological treatment for PTSD. In one study, EMDR was used to successfully work through relationship difficulties experienced by a gay couple as a result of traumatic events.
- Connect with other LGBTQ individuals: Oftentimes, being a part of the LGBTQ community can have a positive impact on mental health, as well as emotional and social wellbeing. LGBTQ individuals report experiencing mutual support, understanding, feelings of safety, and the freedom to express oneself.
- Talk about your feelings: Coming out as LGBTQ can bring about many emotional challenges. LGBTQ individuals may experience sadness, guilt, shame, fear, and other emotions as a result of exploring and expressing your sexuality and gender identity. Processing difficult feelings can be painful and some people may try to numb them out. Unfortunately, this coping strategy temporarily shuts down these uncomfortable feelings. However, in the long run, you have not changed how you feel. Discussing difficult feelings with a trusted friend, a family member, or health professional is a healthier way to find relief.
- Find a creative outlet: You may feel repressed or be unable to be yourself in public. You may feel afraid that if you express yourself, people will be unaccepting and cruel. Finding creative forms of expression, such as art, dance, or music, can provide a way for you to show others who you are.
Navigating life as an LGBTQ individual can be challenging on many levels. Dealing with emotional difficulties can be isolating, whereas, the support of a Psychologist can offer hope and comfort. Since the LGBTQ population is at a higher risk for a variety of mental health disorders, Hopewell Psychological offers treatments to address them. We offer individual therapies, as well as therapy for couples, families, and groups in order to strengthen the individual and his/her most important relationships. You deserve to live a happy life and we would love to offer you support on your journey.
*Psychologists are covered under Insurance Companies in Canada. You will need to check with your insurance company about the specific details regarding your coverage.
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