Tag Archives: mental health

Eating Disorders a Significant Problem in the LGBT Community

Numerous findings from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) have been gathered about eating disorders in the LGBT population.

Unfortunately, eating disorders are a problem with individuals in general. In the US, 20 million women are affected and 10 million men. In the LGBT community, a reported 15 percent of gay and bisexual men reported having some type of eating disorder in their life compared to 4.6 percent of heterosexual men. A survey showed that gay men were seven times more likely to binge and 12 times more likely to purge than heterosexual men. In the LGBT adolescent group, gay and bisexual individuals were much more likely to have gone on a fast, vomited or purged in another way, than heterosexuals reported.

Eating Disorders a Significant Problem in the LGBT Community

According to the research, lesbian women appeared to be the most satisfied with their bodies overall, but they, along with bisexual females, were at more of a binge-eating risk than heterosexual women, at approximately twice the rate. Lesbian and bisexual girls were also shown to have higher rates of laxative use and purging, or vomiting than heterosexual girls. No matter their sex, those identifying as LGBTQ were more likely to have disordered eating habits or an eating disorder than their heterosexual peers. It was not unusual for LGBT teens to have disordered eating habits when they were as young as 12.

There are some issues that may explain this big difference in eating disorders in the LGBT population, with teens in particular, including:

  • Internalization of negative thoughts and messages about gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation
  • Fears about rejection and coming out
  • Having previous traumatic experiences related to sexual orientation
  • Past experiences with discrimination or bullying

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions associated with eating disorders. For example, many people don’t think they affect men or they believe eating disorders to be lifestyle choices, not illnesses. It’s important to spread awareness of the actual truth.  There is help available and everyone should feel safe seeking treatment.

LGBT Youth Experience More Cyber Bullying

LGBT youth face significant difficulties with discrimination, harassment and lack of family support.

It also happens that they face more harassment online–a place where many youth go to feel as if they’re more part of a community, receive support, medical information, and other opportunities . One study by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that LGBT youth faced cyber bullying three times more than non-LGBT youth. The study points out that those living in more rural areas experience even higher levels of harassment online and shows that 42 percent of LGBT youth face a higher level of online bullying, compared to 15 percent of those who are straight/cisgender. Part of the study resulted in findings that show LGBT youth were twice as likely to report bullying through text messages.

This study, called “Out Online: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth on the Internet”, included results from a national survey which included 5,680 middle and high school students, grades 6-12. It was found that lower grade point average and self-esteem, and a higher chance of depression were linked to youth affected by bullying.

LGBT Youth Experience More Cyber Bullying

Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN’s Executive Director said, “LGBT youth continue to face extraordinary obstacles in their day-to-day lives whether at school or online, but the Internet can be a valuable source of information and support when they have no one or nowhere else left to turn to. As social media evolve, so must our efforts to serve LGBT youth to ensure their safety, health and well-being.”

It is important for LGBT youth to have access to resources available on the Internet that they either would not be able to find elsewhere, or that they don’t feel comfortable seeking offline.  For example, this study shows that LGBT youth (particularly those who are transgender) are twice as likely to look up medical information online than their straight/cisgender peers. It is vital that LGBT youth know they have a safe place to be themselves online, especially if they don’t feel that support elsewhere.

Seasonal Affective Disorder and the LGBT Community

Winter is upon us, and with it come colder temperatures and fewer hours of sunlight. For many, this lack of light can result in Seasonal Affective Disorder—known as SAD—a type of depression that is associated with the changing seasons. SAD can make it difficult to weather the winter months, and for those in the LGBT community, SAD can be an especially difficult, possibly compounding problem.

SAD is thought to result from a decrease in exposure to sunlight. This decrease may disrupt your internal clock (i.e., circadian rhythm) and can also lead to a drop in serotonin levels. SAD can manifest in a variety of ways. The most common symptoms include tiredness, lack of energy, irritability, changes in appetite, weight gain, and social withdrawal.

Seasonal Affective Disorder and the LGBT Community

Why should LGBT be concerned about SAD? According to the American Psychological Association, when compared to their heterosexual counterparts, gay men have “higher rates of recurrent major depression,” and individuals between the ages of 15 to 54 with same-sex partners had “higher rates of anxiety, mood, and substance use disorders and suicidal thoughts.” Because they are susceptible to depression, it is important that those in the LGBT population be aware of the effects brought on by SAD because “symptoms of depression may worsen seasonally.”

To combat the effects of SAD, many physicians recommend light therapy, also called phototherapy. During light therapy, the patient sits near a special light therapy box that is designed to mimic natural sunlight exposure. Antidepressant medications and psychotherapy are also often recommended.

Being aware of SAD and not simply dismissing the symptoms as the “winter blues” is the first step toward coping. Those in the LGBT community, as well as others who may be susceptible to or have a history of depression, should be aware of the symptoms and the recommended treatment options.

The Dangers of Conversion Therapy

Conversion therapy is a barbaric practice based in pseudo-science and religious zealotry. As of August 8th, 2014, it is only banned in two states – New Jersey and California. On December 2nd, Washington DC banned it’s use in minors. Nationwide, bans have been introduced in Michigan, voted down in Virginia and Illinois, and stalled in ten other states.

Survivors of this insane (and it is insane in the cruelest of ways) abusive, and completely ineffective “treatment” often endure more psychological damage from their “reparative therapy” than any one human should ever go through.

“Pray The Gay Away” camps are still rampant in the middle and southern regions of the United States. These church-run camps are where ignorant parents send their gay offspring, should that child come out of the closet.

The Dangers of Conversion Therapy

The book Youth in Crisis by Mitchell Gold speaks to the damaging effects of the stifling, stunted, and backwards belief systems associated with “Praying the gay away”:

Rather than resolving conflicts, reparative therapy programs create new ones by falsely promising gay people who are unhappy with their sexual orientation that they can become heterosexual. When gay men and women find that they can’t change, they end up with feelings of guilt and failure that lead to depression, loss of friends and social support, addictive behaviors, and substance abuse.

The methodology used by the therapists conducting conversion therapy in order to “cure” their patients ranges from estrogen for males (to quell their libido), to electroconvulsive therapy. The theory behind the latter treatment (and it is painful to use “treatment” and not “torture”) is that the seizure will somehow rearrange the “faulty” wiring in the subject’s mind, and somehow trigger heterosexuality.

Great numbers of the LGBTQ community have suffered the immense traumas that come with being an openly gay child or teen in conservative America, often repeatedly, and with tragic results. The toxic and completely detrimental practice of conversion therapy is a singular American experience.

When an individual is told that an essential part of them is wrong and terrible, that their god hates them for what they can’t help, that they are going to hell for being their natural self, the end results are often tragic. The American Psychiatric Association states:

The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient. Many patients who have undergone reparative therapy relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction. The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian is not presented, nor are alternative approaches to dealing with the effects of societal stigmatization discussed.

The LGBTQ community in the United States must work towards a national ban on this outmoded, and, frankly, cruel practice that has been built on a foundation of bigotry and lies. Parents should not be able to send their children away to be “fixed” or create an impossible transformation in a perfectly healthy human being.

Transgender Children: Making the Change Early

Transgender Children: Making the Change EarlyWhile not a common issue, growing up feeling like your body is the wrong gender is a struggle. About 700,000 people in the U.S., or 0.3% of the population identify as transgender in 2014. This often translates into stress for individuals and families because society has rigid guidelines for how it identifies an individual’s gender. In a shocking 2013 study, 41 percent of 6,400 transgender respondents claimed to have attempted suicide. Becoming who we feel we are is a very important journey; one seven-year-old A.J. (who’s name has been changed for privacy concerns) would go on much sooner than the average person.

A.J. was originally born a boy, but not long after A.J. turned 3, things started to changed. At the time, he wanted longer hair. Mother, Debi, claimed A.J. “screamed and fought when I got out the clippers and got one cut down the side … there were tears… like torture.” He did not feel comfortable in his clothes, frequently telling his parents he wanted to wear dresses and jewelery. The victim of constant harassment, A.J. said “When I first, in the fourth grade, cut my hair they called me he-she.”

At 4 years old, A.J.’s parents took her to their pediatrician, who declared the then boy’s gender identity did not align with her then body. While much happier now, her (A.J.) parents expressed great difficulty with the transition. Many of A.J.’s childhood friends have been distanced. Her parents have transferred her to a new school and guarded her transgender status with secrecy; something they plan to continue to do, fearing the discrimination their daughter could face.

A.J.’s story is truly a testimony of the power of love and family. Her family are not only Southern Baptists, they are also Republican and generally do not support things like transitional surgery/therapy. A.J.’s mother says they are in no way pushing a liberal agenda, and was quoted stating, “There is a profound difference between wanting to be something in imaginary play and in declaring who you are insistently, consistently and persistently. Those are three markers that set transgender children apart, and my daughter displayed all of them.”

Of transgenderism, A.J.’s dad said, “It’s not something we asked for. It’s not something we wanted. It just happened. My thought process all along is I would rather have a happy, healthy little girl than a suicidal, dead son.”

Despite Progress, LGBT Community Still Faces Significant Violence

Despite Progress, LGBT Community Still Faces Significant ViolenceThe federal government has extended historic rights to the LGBT population and 18 states have given gay couples the right to marry. But despite unprecedented gains, hate crimes perpetrated against the LGBT community has risen 4.3% since 2006 according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Psychiatrist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Philip Bialer, M.D., also an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, told Psychiatric News, “It is disconcerting that since 2006, anti-LGBT violence has gotten worse—at least in terms of the numbers.”

6,000 hate-crimes took place in 2012 according to the FBI. Among these, 19.6% were in regards to the victim’s sexual orientation. In 2006 that number was 15.3%. Until the late 20th century, hate crimes were defined as “perceived race, color, religion, or national origin,” according to Bialer. Gender identity was added to the Hate Crime Statics Act of 1990. Verbal harassment, intimidation, threats and physical violence are the most common hate crimes LGBT face says the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). White LGBT are twice as prone to report these crimes, while minority LGBT and the transgendered are more likely to suffer in silence. According to Bialer, “People of color and transgender women are at very high risk for severe anti-LGBT violence and even homicide.”

Despite Progress, LGBT Community Still Faces Significant ViolencePsychiatric News reports that according to NCAVP data, “African Americans accounted for 54 percent of homicide victims of anti-LGBT hate crimes in 2012, compared with 15 percent and 11.5 percent, respectively, reported among Latino and Caucasian populations.” Over half of the violence that ended in homicide was directed at transgendered women.

Support groups for the LGBT community should ensure that these high-risk groups feel accepted and comfortable when seeking support. Organizations should also reach out to them, perhaps even tailor programs especially for spreading awareness, what resources they have for high risk populations who are hesitant to speak out.

Bialer suggested that those mental healthcare providers who see patients who are transgendered women or an LGBT ethnic minority should ask about their history of stigmatization, harassment, discrimination and find out what coping mechanisms they are using to mitigate the impact of these crimes. EMS workers, first responders and police should also undergo cultural sensitivity training so that they know how to interact with the LGBT community with compassion said Bailer. He went on to say, “There is still much work to be done on federal and state levels.” Bailer concerned for the future said, “My hope is that increased acceptance of LGBT people and continued progress with issues such as marriage equality will have a beneficial effect on attitudes toward LGBT people and eventually result in fewer anti-LGBT hate crimes.”

LGB Veterans Could Benefit from Better Mental Health Services

LGB Veterans Could Benefit from Better Mental Health ServicesMental health providers and social workers need to adopt more inclusive policies as LGB soldiers and veterans often find themselves marginalized according to new research out of the University of Missouri at Columbia. In 2011, Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was lifted and members of the United States military are now allowed to disclose their sexual orientation supposedly without fear of reprisal. There are approximately one million lesbian, gay and bisexual veterans according to estimates.

Doctoral student at the School of Social Work in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences, Michael Pelts, says, “Identifying as LGB and serving in the military can provide a distinct set of experiences and challenges for individuals.” He goes on to say, “Within the U.S., identifying as a service member or veteran can marginalize individuals. This is also true for people who identify as LGB. The impact may be compounding. For example, suicide has a high occurrence rate among veterans and even more so among veterans who identify as LGB.” Certainly everyone needs a sense of belonging for good mental health. But the U.S. military hasn’t always been the most welcoming, for many groups.

LGB Veterans Could Benefit from Better Mental Health ServicesLGB members generally seek mental health services outside of the veteran’s healthcare system, according to Pelts. He elaborated saying, “Social workers in the public and private sectors make up the largest group of mental health service providers to veterans and their families.” As for the near future Pelts predicts, “It is likely that social workers will continue to see current and new generations of veterans struggling with their sexual identity and with the impact of internal and societal stigmas related to identifying as LGB. Therefore, mental health professionals need to be equipped to care for members of this population.”

Instead of taking on the same cultural assumptions that the deriders of LGB veterans do, these providers should treat them as people who have a problem regardless of their orientation or identity. Therapists and social workers in other parts of the country could perhaps benefit from some sensitivity training. Says Pelt, “It’s not ethically sound practice to assume that all service members and veterans are heterosexual. Assuming individuals are heterosexual can compound stress for LGB individuals and make them less likely to share information, which can make it more difficult for health professionals and mental health providers to provide adequate care.”

How Dementia is Impacting the LGBT Community

How Dementia is Impacting the LGBT CommunityAs acceptance of same-sex couples becomes more common, we are seeing more elderly same-sex couples weather the challenges of retirement and aging together. But the LGBT community has to deal with some additional challenges when one partner suffers from dementia. Last year the story of Lon Watts’ battle with his partner’s family over guardianship received attention for its immoderate qualities. Lon Watts lost his home of many years as he lost his partner to dementia after his partner’s sister seized everything from him in court. Watts was not suspected of any abuse towards his partner, and he had not felt that he was unwelcome in his partner’s family prior to the dispute.

Watts’ story is one of the more extreme instances of a same-sex couple being flatly denied recognition in healthcare recently, and it would probably be specious to say that straight partners do not ever face the same issues. The healthcare system has made a great many steps forward in recognizing the validity of same-sex partnerships, but caring for older LGBT individuals even in a perfectly accepting atmosphere would be complicated because, as some LGBT individuals with dementia lose newer memories, they may find themselves experiencing thoughts and feelings from what life was like for them before they were openly gay. This also creates an emotionally trying predicament for the guardian or main caregiver, who may have no one to turn to during this time.

In some relationships, partners of LGBT individuals with dementia may be unable to care for their loved one themselves, but they often feel unsure of where to place their loved one. Homophobia is still an everyday threat to same sex couples, and many partners find it difficult to reconcile conflicting worries—their own needs, and the fear that their loved one will be mistreated in a senior care setting.

Special support groups for LGBT partners of senior citizens with dementia are rare, but they are growing in demand. The Times Colonist writes that groups like the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C., which have not before been able to offer full morale support to LGBT partners, have added special support groups targeted towards their specific needs. The “Rainbow Caregiver Support Group” in Vancouver is one of the first of its kind in British Columbia, and is currently attended by 12 members. This is in a population that estimates that it has between 300-600 LGBT citizens with dementia. Chances are that word just hasn’t gotten very far yet, but in years to come the efforts of groups such as the Rainbow Caregiver Support group will meliorate the losses of many as the eldery LGBT population grows in numbers.

LGBT Teen Suicide Risk Higher for Those who Received Religious Counseling

LGBT Teen Suicide Risk Higher for Those who Received Religious CounselingA recent Williams Institute study found that LGBT teens who had received religious counseling were at higher risk for committing suicide than those who had received no such counseling. The study entitled, “The Role of Help-Seeking in Preventing Suicide Attempts Among Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals,” also found that those who sought out the counsel of a medical professional faired about the same in terms of suicide risk as those who sought no counseling whatsoever. Yet clearly the more shocking find is the increase risk for those who sought the counsel of a religious leader. A senior scholar of public policy at the institute and the study’s co-author Ilan Meyer said, “The findings are troubling because seeking treatment is a recommended suicide prevention strategy and this study’s results show no more positive effect for people who sought treatment.” He went on to say, “More studies are needed to assess the efficacy of treatment for LGB people with suicidal ideation in preventing future suicide attempts. But, even without further study, public health officials and health service providers ought to ensure that LGBT individuals who seek mental health treatment, whether it is in medical or religious settings, receive competent mental health services that is relevant to their needs.”

LGBT Teen Suicide Risk Higher for Those who Received Religious CounselingThis is not the first study to uncover such findings, backing up a 2010 study conducted by The Public Religion Research Council. It was found in that study that religious leaders condemning homosexuality led to a higher suicide rate among the gays within their communities that they counseled. That same year, a CNN report found that two thirds of Americans believed that homosexuals committed suicide based partly on negative religious messages regarding them. Religious right groups in turn retaliated against these findings by saying that gay rights groups recruiting homosexuals brainwashed youth into thinking they were gay, and the cognitive dissonance between this message and being bullied for their lifestyle and sexual orientation “prevent them from condemning homosexuality, creating an intolerable level of emotional stress, leading to tragedy,” according to Southern Poverty Law Center’s HateWatch.

The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer said of gay rights groups, “They’re trying to get this brainwashing into students of all ages, even starting in elementary school, and what they’re urging them to do is self-declare as homosexuals before they are mature enough to make any sort of rational decision about sexual matters. So I’m suggesting that adults that pressure these students to declare a disordered sexual preference when they’re too young to know better, that they share some culpability for those who take their lives.”

Getting hold of Transsexual Hormone Replacement Therapy

Getting hold of Transsexual Hormone Replacement Therapy
Getting hold of Transsexual Hormone Replacement Therapy

Transsexual hormone replacement therapy helps those who feel they were born in the wrong body transition to what they feel is their proper sex. Many transgender feel discrimination for not having an easily distinguished gender. Hormone therapy helps them easily blend in and not become a target for discrimination.

Those who live near a metropolitan area should be able to gain access to hormone replacement therapy rather easily. First, make sure you are mentally prepared to take the theerapy. If you are severely dysphoric, you may need to seek the help of a certified mental health professional; preferably one that you trust and has experience assisting with someone in your situation. If you are on a constrained budget, try looking into LGBT advocacy groups in your area that may be able to offer help. Also consider universities in your vicinity, as many offer psychological services on a sliding scale.

Doubting one’s transsexuality may cause psychological issues when hormone therapy begins to change your body. Always consult a physician about hormone therapy before you begin but throughout the process. You need to be carefully monitored to make sure no abnormalities occur. Think of all the questions you have, do thorough research and be sure to ask your doctor. Remember to advocate for your health when you don’t think you are being heard or your questions are not being answered.

Avoid healthcare providers that go by the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care guidelines drafted by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), or what was originally known as the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (HBIGDA). Therapist intervention levels are high with these guidelines and without meeting these standards, they may block your access to hormone therapy. There are many doctors out there who require these Standards of Care before even approaching your case.

There is another set of guidelines that will give you easier access to hormone therapy with little to no therapist’s intervention. Instead look for doctors and clinics who stick to the Tom Waddell Standards; like a physician in the free clinics in San Francisco. Dr. Tom Waddel personally penned these standards from his own experiences with the transgendered. While you may have to attend group meetings, the standards he implements are very straight forward.

It can be difficult finding a particular clinic’s standards. The best advice is to ask others in the transgendered community. Find out which doctor or doctors they used and who they recommend. You can also  check the internet for clinics in your area that provide hormone therapy. Just remember to get official help, as too little or too many hormones in the body can cause many serious health problems.