The overlap between the LGBTQ+ community and people who struggle with mental health is alarmingly large. LGBTQ+ people are almost three times more likely than others to deal with depression or anxiety, and on top of that, they're at a much higher risk for suicide. It's not crazy to assume that some of this comes from prejudice, stigma, and a lack of support from the people around them. So what do we do about it? First things first: Learn to be better allies.
Being an ally of a marginalized community will never be as difficult as being part of the community itself, but it does come with its own set of challenges. How do you empathize with your trans friend, for example, if you can't even begin to relate to what they're going through? That's what we wanted to find out, so we asked seven experts about the one thing they wish more people knew about supporting LGBTQ+ friends and family.
1. Remember they're human.
"This is going to sound very, very basic, but people need to understand—and come to grips with—the fact that transgender people are human beings entitled to dignity and civil rights. Not doing that causes a huge mental health crisis among transgender people. Not being accepted by everyone around you and being ostracized in so many ways can literally make you mentally unwell. There needs to be more conversations about that in this country."
- Jillian Weiss, executive director of Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund
2. Recognize that you deal with similar issues.
"I think the misconception is that people on the outside feel like, 'Oh, I don't know much about those issues, so I can't help you or I don't know what to say.' But a lot of times, [LGBTQ+] issues are just human issues, like being bullied at school, not communicating well with family, or having trouble getting people to understand them. Everyone can identify with feelings of not fitting in, of not really knowing who you are. There are more commonalities than people might think."
- Shoko Morikawa, crisis counselor supervisor at Crisis Text Line
3. Don't be scared of not knowing what to say.
"Really, what I think we need to do is listen to young people. Young people, in my experience, know who they are and know what they want. They know what words to use to talk about themselves. It's on adults to unpack our own baggage and our own discomfort and our own fear of not knowing the right thing to say or do. When in doubt, listen to young people."
- Becca Mui, education manager at GLSEN
4. Ask questions.
"If you don't know how to help them, ask, 'How can I help you? How can I be there to support you?' That puts them in the driver's seat. They feel like they have the agency to communicate what they need to others. In some way, that's empowering."
5. Understand they still face adversity.
"I think what's important for people to know is that we do face adversity. So many people think it ended with marriage equality, but we can still be fired in 42 states for being gay. We can't adopt children in 46. There are so many obstacles out there, and I think people should know we still have a long way to go."
- Cole Ledford, social media influencer and award-winning activist
6. Focus on expressing your feelings.
"It's really coming from a place of emotional intelligence. You don't need to know what to say; you just need to express what you're feeling. So if you see someone who's struggling with something, it's OK to just say, 'It looks like you're going through a rough time, do you want to talk about it?' That empowers the person to either acknowledge, 'Yes, I am going through a rough time, and yes, I do want to talk about it,' or, 'I am, and I don't want to talk about it,' or even, 'Everything's fine, and you totally read that wrong.' But at least you're reaching out on a human being-to-human being level. It really has to do with genuinely caring about people."
- David Bond, LCSW, B.C.E.T.S., vice president of programs at The Trevor Project
"The No. 1 thing people can do is listen. For a young person, to feel empowered, to feel like they matter in the world, is so powerful. To have someone listen to you, to what you're concerned about, to what you want to see in the world, is so empowering. And a young person can achieve so much more in the world when they're empowered. Once they know that their voice matters, they'll use it. They'll become a leader if they know that's possible for them."
- Ross Schwartz, director of PR and communications at Hetrick-Martin Institute
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or just want to talk to someone, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 for free help and support.