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Why Strengthening Community Could Be The Answer To Better LGBT Mental Health

13/07/2017 16:47
MarijaRadovic via Getty Images

LGBTQ communities have higher rates of anxiety, depression, substance use disorders and suicidal behaviours than heterosexuals. Evidence indicates that gay men for example are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual men are.

Mental health problems experienced by LGBT people have been linked to experiences of discrimination, homophobia and bullying. This is often internalised, which goes some way in helping us to understand our community's propensity towards self-destructive behaviours and substance use problems.

Being plugged into a 24/7 news cycle through smartphones doesn't help things much either, with worrying political developments in both the UK with May's DUP coalition, and in the US, where LGBTQ rights are in immediate danger of being rolled back.

In January (the month of the U. S. presidential inauguration), Google Trends data showed a surge in search interest for the terms 'anxiety' and 'anxiety help', with both reaching the highest since records began.

Meanwhile in the world of academic research, the ongoing Harvard study of Adult Development, now almost 80 years old, has proven that embracing community helps us to live longer and to be happier.

The study found that people who are more socially connected to family, friends, and their community are happier, physically healthier and live longer with fewer mental health problems than people who are less well connected.

So we have to ask what this all means for LGBT communities. It's important not to become consumed by news that distresses us. Our own mental health has to come first; without it we have much less to give to the social and political issues we're concerned about.

When we're feeling able to, taking action with our communities to feel part of the solution can be a good way to deal with and process things that are happening. The sense of solidarity we can find in a community collectively coming together to take action can be a protective factor for our mental health, reducing our sense of isolation - and as the Harvard study highlighted, social isolation is as much of a risk-factor for our health as smoking.

This year's San Diego Pride festival is one organisation recognising the power of coming together during difficult times, with this years theme 'Allied in Action: United for Justice'. The entire parade will be focused around intersectionality and standing together, with interfaith leaders heading up this year's parade in a display of unity.

For San Diego, Pride is more than a once-a-year festival. In 2016 the Pride organisation used music festival revenue to fund grants, totaling $80,000 given to 41 nonprofit organisations to 'aid their development and growth'.

By strengthening and participating in our communities, we can push for better policies and better equipped local LGBT services. We need to see greater investment in community centers, lgbt-friendly counselling services and pro-active alcohol and addiction outreach programmes.

Unpredictability and volatility are becoming the new normal. Now, more than ever, we need to do all we can to find ways of supporting each other and building our collective resilience.

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