During the month of June, there's a lot of focus on celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community. But raising awareness about the needs of the LGBTQIA+ population should be a priority year-round. Members of this community not only face social obstacles, but they're also at greater risk of developing certain health problems.
"We see Pride month as a celebration of self but ignore the very real issues that are also a part of the lives of queer folks," says Jess Gray, LMSW, a behavioral health specialist at Henry Ford Health. "People who identify as LGBTQIA+ are at greater risk of things like substance abuse, tobacco addiction and depression, but they may not feel safe at a doctor's office." Add it all together and LGBTQIA+ people may not receive necessary health care or counseling.
Health Issues Facing The LGBTQIA+ Community
It's no secret that people within the LGBTQIA+ community often suffer disproportionately from depression and anxiety. They're more likely to be victimized, abused and assaulted, and many of these incidents are unreported and untreated.
We asked Gray to provide insight about the health issues facing the LBGTQIA+ community — and how we can all help change things for the better.
Q: What are the biggest health-related concerns facing the LGBTQIA+ community?
A: LGBTQIA+ folks face health disparities due to discrimination, stigma and denial of care. In a survey of more than 30,000 people who identify as LGBTQIA+, researchers reported significant health disparities ranging from increased suicide risk to lack of insurance. Intersecting identities within the LGBTQIA+ community can also pose barriers to access and treatment. A queer black person who uses a wheelchair faces more barriers and biases than a cisgender white gay man.
Q: Which conditions disproportionately affect the LGBTQIA+ population?
A: LGBTQIA+ folks are more likely to develop depression, substance abuse and HIV. And they're more likely to die by suicide. They're also at risk of being underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed for other health problems due to issues getting access to care and inconsistent healthcare.
Q: Why are LGBTQIA+ folks more at risk for mental health issues?
A: Just because someone is queer doesn’t mean they will be depressed. Many of the mental health concerns of LGBTQIA+ folks are directly related to the way in which they are treated and valued in society. Mental health concerns follow after years of invalidation, mocking, seeing few role models that look like them, and loss or lack of emotional supports.
Q: What are some of the behavioral health issues facing people who haven't come out yet?
A: Not everyone will be able to come out. Not everyone chooses to identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. The fear of rejection from loved ones who provide emotional support may result in a person never feeling safe enough to reach out to those people. This is especially true if those individuals have already expressed homophobic or transphobic thoughts. In addition, “coming out” is a lifelong process. For example, every time an LGBTQIA+ person gets a new job, they’re faced with possibly coming out again. With this choice they may face new concerns like, "Does this new job have an antidiscrimination policy?"
Q: How can the general public better support LGBTQIA+ issues?
A: One of the best ways for the general public to show support is to educate themselves. It's important to use a person's preferred pronouns and make the effort to learn more about their personal identity. Medical forms (and forms in general) shouldn't force people to identify themselves by checking a box. Those are small steps that can help lead toward acceptance.
Supporting The LGBTQIA+ Community
It’s not uncommon for LGBTQIA+ people to feel unsafe in their surroundings. Studies show that people who identify as LGBTQIA+ are significantly more vulnerable to verbal and physical abuse — even in the waiting room at a doctor’s office. They're also more likely to have difficulty accessing healthcare.
Interestingly, while the coronavirus pandemic may not be changing public attitudes, it does seem to be removing some of the access barriers for LGBTQIA+ individuals. "COVID is helping us come up with more creative ways to meet people where they are," Gray says. "For example, Affirmations' LGBTQIA+ Alcoholics Anonymous in Detroit went virtual and had so many more participants."
Find yourself in a facility that doesn't prioritize LGBTQIA+ concerns? Seek care elsewhere. Local organizations, community centers (like Affirmations) and nonprofits that focus on equity issues may also be able to point you to providers who are interested in LGBTQIA+ care.
To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936. While any of our physicians can treat LGBTQIA+ patients, certain doctors have expressed interest in LGBTQIA+ health. Find a doctor with an LGBTQIA+ designation.
Jess Gray is a behavioral health specialist who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center - Ford Road in Dearborn.