By Larry Shushansky, LICSW
Picture one of those slow motion videos of a tennis ball being hit by a tennis racquet and coiling inward before being released back to its original shape as the ball projects through the air. That’s what mental resiliency is: the ability to “bounce back” from conflict to a state of health and well-being.
For some of us, this skill is challenging, but for members of the LGBTQ community, mental resiliency is particularly difficult because of the daily, constant discrimination and adversity the community faces.
What the LGBTQ Community is Up Against
Every time a member of the LGBTQ community is exposed to gay and lesbian jokes, labeling, stereotyping and verbal and physical violence, their mental resiliency is tested. The LGBTQ community is faced with hateful talk and discrimination on a daily basis—and it’s only increasing. In an article titled, “LGBTQ Community Now 'Most Likely Target of Hate Crimes' in America,” Robin Scher writes: “In the past year, hate crimes against the group have risen by 20%, surpassing Jews, Muslims (who are also increasingly targeted) and blacks. But race is still a risk factor; the AVP report also noted transgender women of color are twice as likely to encounter violence as their white counterparts.”
According to statistics from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), there are “higher rates of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive and phobic disorders, suicidality, self-harm, and substance abuse” among the LGBTQ community. They have double the risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than individuals who identify as heterosexual. The CMHA also states, “77% of trans respondents in an Ontario-based survey had seriously considered suicide and 45% had attempted suicide.”
Whether it's outward displays of verbal and physical violence or subtler forms of personal and systemic discrimination, members of the LGBTQ community require mental resiliency on a much more significant level than straight individuals. For example, a heterosexual couple can walk hand-in-hand in almost every city across the United States, while the same is not true for the gay community. LGBTQ couples have to be aware of when and where they show even the simplest and most innocent forms of affection.
Additionally, LGBTQ individuals have to endure an endless stream of news reports regarding discrimination against their community. Incidents such as violence in homophobic countries around the world; places closer to home like North Carolina, Mississippi and other states passing laws restricting gay rights; and horrific hate crimes like the Orlando nightclub shootings a few months ago are flashed on the news repeatedly.
Not to mention the other “factors that may impact mental health and well-being for LGBTQ people include the process of ‘coming out’ (sharing one’s LGBTQ identity with others), gender transition, internalized oppression, isolation and alienation, loss of family or social support and the impact of HIV and AIDS,” writes the CMHA.
What Must Change
Currently, LGBTQ individuals bear the burden of their own mental resiliency, and they do it well. They strategically seek out support from family and friends who won’t judge or be critical of their sexual orientation or gender identity. They research and pick supportive workplaces, neighborhoods, clubs and organizations to build a community of like-minded individuals to decrease the sense of isolation. They find mental health outlets that can help with depression, anxiety and other emotional and psychological difficulties. And they actively seek out spiritual communities that will be accepting and supportive. But why must the work of mental resiliency fall on the victims of hate and violence? It is time for everyone to help.
You can help by taking a step back and reflecting. Be open enough to look at your own judgment or criticisms of people with different sexual orientation and gender identity. Then consider how you can best support the LGBTQ community. Try to create, in your community, supportive workplaces, neighborhoods, clubs and organizations that are inclusive of all individuals. Support mental health outlets that help with substance abuse, addictions and mental illnesses. Be a spokesperson in your religious and spiritual community for acceptance, love and support.
When you hear discriminatory language when you’re out and about, be brave enough to stand up and speak out against such language. When someone tells a gay joke, speak up. Vote for politicians who will advocate and pass legislation that is supportive of the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender community. Advocate for laws that ban discrimination according to sexual orientation or gender identity, in such areas as housing, employment, medical care, military service, age of consent laws, hate crimes, adoption policies and laws intended to refuse services to the LGBTQ community. Petition when your city or state tries to pass anti-LGBTQ laws and personally boycott travel (when possible) to any state, city or town that passes these laws or condones discriminatory practices.
Like that tennis ball, members of the LGBTQ community must recoil when hit by the racquet of bigotry, hatred and small mindedness before “bouncing back” towards health and well-being. But you can be part of creating an environment to reduce and, hopefully one day, eliminate the need for such resiliency.
As a therapist for over 30 years, Larry Shushansky has seen thousands of individuals, couples and families take a psychological step back from their problems and become independent enough to figure out what they needed to do to have the life they’ve wanted.
Through this and the process he used to get clean from his alcohol and drug addiction, Larry has developed the concept of Independent Enough to manage the conflict and “noise” in his life. It was this combination of efforts that gave him a unique voice in the mental health field and he went on to set up family therapy programs, direct a residential facility for adolescents in hospitals, mental health centers and family service agencies before starting his own private practice. He has taught his theory to diverse audiences; including CIO Round Tables, public and private corporate settings, and community organizations. He has written articles applying Independent Enough to business, family situations, universities, young adults, children, and society, and he has been seen in publications such as The Huffington Post, The Everyday Power Blog, The Chicago Tribune, Fast Company, The Boston Globe, EverUp, TEEN Vogue, Glamour, and many others. He resides in Providence, RI with his wife, Jolie. They have three adult children, all living independent lives.
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