Previous research suggests the stressors endured specifically by sexual and gender minorities lead to increases in anxiety, depressive symptoms, and mood disorders in members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning, intersex, asexual (LGBTQIA+) population. Despite their increased risk of developing mental disorders and related symptoms, many members of the LGBTQIA+ community find immense hardship in finding appropriate and effective mental health care due to stigma and discrimination. LGBTQIA+ people of color (POC) encounter these levels of stigma and discrimination to a greater extent as a result of their intersectional minority identities, creating additional barriers when attempting to access adequate healthcare.
If it were in my power at this moment to create a solution to this ever expanding mental health crisis, my inclination would be to create accessible short-term treatment programs for LGBTQIA+ individuals at exceptional risk for developing mental illness and with limited access to resources. For example, research reports there is an increased risk for the development of psychiatric disorders in homeless youth and high rates of homelessness in LGBTQIA+ children with unaccepting families.
Additionally, sexual/gender minority collegiate students fall into a category of risk for the development of mental illness not only based upon their identity as sexual/gender minorities, but in facing the unique stressors of being a college student, which alone can lead to increased anxiety, depressive symptoms and stress without the intervention of effective coping skills.
Furthermore, research suggests that college students already exhibit a difficult time in finding resources for mental health care, but with the added fear of discrimination and stigma, LGBTQIA+ college students may go without seeking treatment for both their minority and school-related symptoms of stress and anxiety.
My plan would involve connecting legislators, policymakers, researchers and mental health professionals with LGBTQIA+ youth and college campus organizations to create government-funded effective treatment programs and place them in accessible locations on college campuses and in areas heavily populated by homelessness youth.
Various obstacles remain in the path of creating such helpful treatment programs, whether focused on homeless youth, collegiate students, or any other at-risk demographic associated with the LGBTQIA+ community. Firstly, funding is absolutely necessary to ensure that they would be able to successfully fund programs for at-risk groups who are unable to afford traditional treatment costs due to economic hardship. This financial issue may vary greatly from one location to another; for example, my home state of Florida ranked as 50th in the United States for mental health funding per person in the year of 2014 (Dadi, 2017), despite having the 3rd highest overall population of any state. A large disparity between mental health funding and population in certain locations has the potential to outweigh the overall need for such a treatment program.
Secondly, though the lack of mental health resources for LGBTQIA+ individuals is documented in recent research, evidence-based need may not be enough to ensure this underserved population obtains access to much needed treatment options. The political climate and content of attitudes towards LGBTQIA+ individuals has the potential to withhold useful treatment programs from those in need. For instance, GLAAD notes attitudes towards members of the LGTBQIA+ community in the southern United States vary greatly from national opinions. Individuals in Southern states are more likely to report discomfort with displays of LGBTQIA+ visibility (GLAAD, n.d.). Moreover, these Southern populations were more likely than their national counterparts to report that symptoms of depression and rates of suicide in LGBTQIA+ populations are not of great significance. CITATION FORMAT??? Through the establishment of laws such as the “religious freedom” bill in Mississippi, which allows individuals to decline services to sexual and gender minorities based upon personal beliefs, as well as the “bathroom bill” in North Carolina, which barred citizens from utilizing specific public bathrooms and changing areas which did not align with their biological sex, Southern United States governments have demonstrated a lack of sensitivity towards issues disproportionately affecting the LGBTQIA+ community.
Lastly, prior to establishing such treatment programs, extensive research would need to be completed in order to ensure the therapeutic strategies being utilized in the programs are helpful in treating anxiety symptoms in sexual and gender minorities. Though significant research has been completed regarding the successful implementation of treatment to alleviate symptoms of various mental health disorders including anxiety, evidence would be required to support that the interventions are useful to reduce negative effects of specific stressors encountered by the intended populations, such as school stress for collegiate students, homelessness in rejected LGBTQIA+ youths and “double stigma” in individuals who feel rejected due to their dual identities as sexual/gender minorities with mental illness. The need for such programs is clear, as members of the LGTBQIA+ community are at three times the risk of developing mental illness as opposed to those who do not identify as a sexual or gender minority (NAMI, n.d.).
By concentrating in mental health and specializing in sexual health and education as a student in the MSW program at Washington University in St. Louis, I hope to begin a path to resolving this social issue. My goal is to explore the unique differences between individuals of different genders, sexualities, and cultural backgrounds and how they experience stress and anxiety in order to create accessible and evidence-based treatment programs for LGBTQIA+ collegiate students. As a future social worker, I will aid in bridging the gap between members of the LGBTQIA+ community and appropriate resources to ensure future scholars receive the help they need in order to pursue the education they desire.