Social stigma, lack of access to mental health support, bullying, discrimination, and shame may compound the effects of depression among people who are gay.
Estimates of depression among members of LGB+ communities vary widely. Some data suggest that depression rates are similar to those of members of heterosexual communities. In contrast, other studies point to much higher rates.
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Depression is a complex illness. Researchers have not identified a single cause that explains all cases of depression.
Most data suggest that a range of factors contribute to the development of depression. These include physical health issues, genetic and family history, lifestyle factors, and environmental factors such as trauma and discrimination.
Some factors that may play a role include:
- Bullying and discrimination: A
2014 surveyof youth who identified as LGBQ found that 74% experienced verbal harassment at school and 17% reported physical assaults.
- Rejection: Rejection by loved ones, especially parents, increases the risk of depression among gay youth.
- Stress and trauma: Stress and trauma are both risk factors for depression. People who are gay are
more likelyto experience certain traumas, such as discrimination, harassment, and rejection.
- Physical health: Gay and bisexual men are at higher risk for HIV. Members of the gay community tend to have
worse outcomesand face more healthcare discrimination. This can cause poor health. Physical health issues are also a risk factor for depression.
- Heterosexism: The idea that heterosexuality is the default or norm can affect gay well-being. Some gay people may internalize heterosexist beliefs. They may experience shame and conflict over their identities and sexual choices.
Estimates of depression rates in the gay community vary widely. Moreover, more recent studies often group LGBTQ identities together. This makes it difficult to identify a consistent depression rate among people who are gay.
Some recent data include:
- The 2020 Trevor Project National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 40% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning youth considered suicide during the previous year. Forty-eight percent reported self-harm, and 46% said they wanted therapy but could not access it during the same period.
- The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are roughly twice as likely as heterosexual people to have a mental health condition.
- A 2017 study estimates that gay men experience depression at rates three times higher than that of the general population.
While mental health support is vital to overall health, many members of the gay community find that accessing mental healthcare intensifies feelings of depression and stigma. This is particularly true among gay teenagers and children, who may face parental rejection when they ask for help.
Gay adults may experience rejection when their mental health providers are insensitive to their identities and experiences.
Some options for getting help:
- School counseling centers: Students who cannot afford to pay for help may be able to find support from a school guidance counselor or college counseling center.
- Local support organizations: LGBTQIA+ support organizations may be able to connect a person to helpful resources. They also offer identity-affirming support that can help a person feel less stigmatized or alone.
- Support groups: Support groups specifically for gay people with mental health issues may help a person develop coping skills and meaningful friendships.
- Affirming therapy: People considering therapy should ask a potential therapist if they are affirming of non-heterosexual identities.
- Medication: Depression is more than just an emotional state – it is a medical condition. Antidepressants may help a person feel better. They can be especially helpful for boosting mood while a person pursues therapy.
The GLBT National Help Center has a dedicated collection of resources to help people find support groups, communities, and other sources of information in their area.
People experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings can try a number of strategies to help:
- Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
- Commit to not self-harming for a period of time, such as 24 or 48 hours.
- Reach out for help. Contact a trusted friend, a therapist, or a doctor.
- Avoid being alone. Try staying with a loved one.
- Call 911 or go to the emergency room if the impulse to harm is overwhelming. Emergency medical care may open up treatment options for prompt care.
People helping a loved one who is having suicidal thoughts should:
- Listen attentively. Do not dismiss the person’s feelings or problems. Do not mock them or suggest they are seeking attention.
- Take the risk seriously. Offer strategies to reduce risk, such as arranging a visit.
- Ask the person if they have a plan. Knowing a person’s plan to self-harm may make it easier to help them.
- Ask for help. Call a suicide hotline for additional help.
- Be supportive. Offer to go with them to therapy or help them get treatment.
- Avoid arguing. Try not to be confrontational, but encourage them to keep talking.
Depression is a serious and potentially life-threatening medical condition. It is not a choice and not something a person can talk themselves out of.
While social factors can contribute to depression, the right support can help a person manage an unsupportive or discriminatory environment and reduce symptoms of depression.