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LGBTQ Mental Health Awareness — Finding help, breaking the stigma

From intimate partner violence and substance abuse to peer bullying, LGBTQ people experience mental health challenges that many times require professional assistance and support. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s our chance to raise awareness of the continued importance of mental health and break the stigma that’s often associated with seeking help. Photo: iStock/clearstockconcepts.

From intimate partner violence and substance abuse to peer bullying, LGBTQ people experience mental health challenges that many times require professional assistance and support.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s our chance to raise awareness of the continued importance of mental health and break the stigma that’s often associated with seeking help.

For example, this month, Cigna released the results of a countrywide survey reporting that many U.S. residents experience loneliness.

A separate survey from the American Psychiatric Association reports that 39 percent of people are feeling more anxious than a year ago.

Other studies have found that among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults —

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Therapy leads to wellness

APLA Health has been offering counseling services since we opened 35 years ago. Our mental health services are free or low-cost to anyone in Los Angeles County, regardless of income, sexual orientation, or HIV status.

Who benefits from our counseling services?

One of the clients at APLA Health is a 32-year-old gay man who misused drugs to cope with his feelings. But, with the help of a compassionate and understanding counselor, he identified some of the roots of his self-destructive behavior:

  • Being raised in a fundamentalist religious household that demonized homosexuality
  • Episodes of intimate partner violence
  • Anxious attachment behavior
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loneliness

Without ongoing therapy, he might not have understood how those causes led to his self-destructive behavior and learned more productive ways to cope with his emotions.

Thanks to the full picture that therapy provided, he celebrates five years of sobriety.

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Another client, a 64-year-old male, came to APLA Health because he was using crystal meth. By working with our staff, he was able to identify the reasons he misused drugs to cope with his feelings. Those causes were rooted in loneliness and rejection, peer bullying, and childhood abuse from his grandfather – who would tease him for being a “sissy.”

COMBATING STIGMA

These two clients show how counseling can help people on the road to wellness; however, both of them had to overcome the stigma associated with seeking mental health services.

  • Many people refuse to seek help because they think they’re going through a ‘phase,’ even though that ‘phase’ has become a pattern in their life.
  • Other people think therapy is a luxury item or something for people who are weak.
  • Both of these excuses are wrong.
  • Therapy can be affordable for everyone.
  • Seeking help is a sign of courage and strength.

Here are other ways to break mental health stigma:

  • Be conscious of the language you, your friends, family, and coworkers use when talking about mental health issues.
  • Treat mental illness with the same equality as physical illness.
  • Show compassion for people with mental illness.

Members of the LGBTQ community who seek our services are vulnerable and honest as well as courageous and brave. Our staff appreciates the trust they place in us to help them on their journey to wellness.

About the author

Craig E. Thompson

Craig E. Thompson is the chief executive officer of APLA Health. He joined as chief operating officer in 1997 and became the chief executive officer in July 1998. Thompson oversees all operations for APLA Health, including clinical operations, client and community services, health education and HIV prevention, government affairs, fund development, finance, and communications.

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