Members of the LGBTQIA+ community face unique mental health challenges related to being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or asexual in America. Discrimination and stigmatization feature prominently in the LGBTQIA+ experience, and LGBTQIA+ members are at higher risk of substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide. A July 2022 study at the University of Utah found one big reason for this disparity is the “lack of safety” that many LGBTQIA+ people experience.
What Support FHE Health Offers for the LGBTQIA+ Community
FHE Health’s Kim Sorondo is working to change that, by helping LGBTQIA+ clients feel safe and supported. A licensed mental health counselor, Sorondo is a primary therapist in FHE’s Restore Mental Health program. Thanks to prior work experience in LGBTQIA+ treatment settings, Sorondo has expertise in this area and has been helping FHE Health improve its care and develop supports for those whose gender and/or sexual orientation fall outside of “non-binary” categories. (The term non-binary is “used to describe people who understand their gender in a way that goes beyond simply identifying as either a man or woman,” Sorondo explained.)
In a recent interview, Sorondo talked about what FHE Health is doing to support these clients. She also described some of the commonly occurring mental health and addiction issues that she encounters within the LGBTQIA+ community….
What Is Our Safe Space Meeting?
FHE’s Safe Space meeting is a peer-led, peer support group for people who identify as LGBTQIA+. They congregate to share their experiences, discuss topics like coming out, and find ways to encourage and empower one another. Sorondo helped start the group after leading a clinical training for FHE clinicians on how to be sensitive to clients with issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
“I provided a presentation for the clinical staff on this population and the special challenges and saw more of a need for it—because there’s so much variation in gender identification,” Sorondo said.
The vocabulary that describes all that variation can be complicated to understand. Sorondo gave the example of an assessment that she did with a client who “said they identify as ‘pan-sexual.’” If you’re wondering what that means, here is how Sorondo defined the term: “Pan-sexual people say they can fall in love with ‘hearts not parts.’ As further clarification, Sorondo added that “not all people who identify as transgender are going to seek medical interventions.”
Whatever your gender and sexual identification along the spectrum that is LGBTQIA+, the Safe Space meeting is where you can go to feel accepted and understood.
The Safe Space meeting is also where you can go to show your solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community. Sorondo said she was surprised to discover that the biggest population that comes in to show support are clients from FHE’s first responder program.
As just one example, Sorondo shared the story of an ally, a veteran, who attended the group and recounted an experience from active combat. Remembering that moment years later for the Safe Space group, the veteran said of his former fellow soldier, “It was so important for him to speak his truth before he died.” Ever since then, the man had been a “true ally” of the LGBTQIA+ community, according to Sorondo.
Recognizing Non-Conforming Gender and Sexuality with Our Language and Pronouns
The Safe Space meeting is one support that FHE offers for the community. Another support has been the language sensitivity and pronoun accuracy that Sorondo and her colleagues are careful to practice when referring to gender and sexual orientation. Whether it’s in a client’s chart or a group or individual therapy setting, it sends the message that “we see you and recognize you and are non-judgmental,” Sorondo said.
Examples of How These Supports Have Helped the LGBTQIA+ Community
How have these supports helped members of the LGBTQIA+ community? Sorondo shared some examples:
- “A non-binary client was very passive and never really spoke up when they were misgendered,” Sorondo said. The Safe Space group gave this person “the self-confidence they needed to correct people when they got their gender wrong.”
- As a sounding board for its members, the Safe Space group has led to ideas about additional ways to help the LGBTQIA+ community at FHE, Sorondo said.
Some of the More Common LGBTQIA+ Mental Health Challenges
Like the general population, the LGBTQIA+ community is susceptible to a broad range of mental health challenges. There can be a lot of individual variation, so Sorondo was careful to discourage painting this population with broad brush strokes: “It’s not easy to stereotype like that, since we’re working with people on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, with gender identity and sexual orientation.”
At the same time, Sorondo acknowledged that certain mental health challenges tend to be more common in the LGBTQIA+ community, such as….
Self-Harm Behaviors Like Cutting and Substance Abuse
Those who are LGBT in sexual orientation often struggle with coming out. It can trigger anxiety and depression. To deal with the rejection they experience from family and society they “may turn to maladaptive coping, including self-harm,” Sorondo said.
Alcoholism in the Lesbian Community
Lesbians in the community, as discussed in the peer group, often struggle with alcohol use and other drugs.
Chemsex in the Gay Community
Chemsex (more typically involving meth) reportedly intensifies pleasure. That makes it more addictive.
One interview cannot possibly cover all the ground, as Sorondo is the first to admit. They may share a common acronym, but the LGBTQIA+ community represents a very broad and diverse group of people, whose mental health and addiction experiences are equally broad and diverse— one might call it “a rainbow” of difference.
At FHE Health, we understand the unique challenges that LGBTQIA+ clients face. We also make it our aim to ensure that each patient in our care feels accepted, supported, and empowered in their journey toward healing and/or recovery. For more information about supports for you or a loved one, contact FHE today.