By Gretchen Hoyum
There have been several strides made over the last few years to support LGBTQ+ communities including last fall when the first U.S. passport with an X gender marker had been issued. There’s still more work to be done. June is Pride Month, an opportunity for LGBTQ+ communities to come together and celebrate the freedom to be themselves. But it’s also an important time to recognize those in the community dealing with mental health issues.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “Gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals are twice as likely to suffer from a mental illness than their straight counterparts. Additionally, transgender individuals are four times as likely to suffer from a mental illness than their cisgender counterparts.”
Because mental illness is closely linked to one’s physical health, all healthcare workers, whether they’re counselors, nurses, dieticians or pediatricians, need to keep this in mind when treating patients. The Vermont Diversity Health Project connects LGBTQ+ Vermonters to safe and affirming providers across the state.
While self-care is important for every human, LGBTQ+ folks must prioritize their wellbeing. My main recommendation would be to find a supportive, loving community in which to surround yourself. Local programs offered by Pride Center of VT would be a good first step toward creating inclusive social spaces and finding a counselor who you connect with and trust if you are struggling with your mental health.
For your physical wellbeing, find a form of movement that you enjoy, such as running, skiing or dancing (babes Bar in Bethel regularly hosts queer dance parties). Eat foods that nourish your body and please you.
For your spiritual wellbeing, try meditating, spending time in nature or finding a supportive faith community.
If you are a friend or ally, the most helpful thing you can do is empathize with your LGBTQ+ loved one and help them feel heard when they’re struggling. Be a safe and loving place for them to come and fully be themselves. Stand up for them (and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole) when you see injustice. Be an advocate, donate to causes and make your love and care actionable.
At Gifford, we aim to be a safe place for the LGBTQ+ community to receive quality healthcare. Many LGTBQ+ folks have experienced significant rejection, discrimination and harassment throughout their lives, which inevitably leads to an increased risk of mental illness. As a marriage and family therapist, I provide individual, family, and couples counseling to all people along with the sexual orientation and gender identity spectrums. I have experience working with folks from a variety of backgrounds and strive to create a compassionate, safe, and authentic space for my patients to fully be who they are.
Experiencing and witnessing hate and discrimination takes a significant toll on one’s mental health. Take breaks from social media, lean into your trusted friends and talk to a counselor if you have one. Every provider here in the Psychiatry and Counseling department at Gifford has experience with and connection to the LGBTQ+ community. We have educational materials available and can be reached through Gifford Primary Care at (802) 728-2445.