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LGBT mental health convo calls on student support

LGBT individuals suffer from significantly higher rates of mental health issues compared to the general population, but Belmont students can help change that.

This was the message gender specialist and mental health counselor Dr. Leah Newman gave in a convocation event hosted by Bridge Builders and the Psychology Club Wednesday night.

“I call you all practitioners because I’m assuming that, in one way or another, you’re all going to be helping the community, whether it’s through your music or whether it’s from being a nurse or doctor or therapist or a researcher,” said Newman. “You have some level of involvement with this community, whether you know it or not.”

During her presentation, Newman addressed the disproportionate amount of mental health problems in the LGBT community — among them, higher rates of substance abuse, self-harm and suicide — and challenged students to help change those statistics.

“I am a really firm believer that you are responsible for the information that you have, but once you have it, you are responsible for that information. It is our duty when we do gain information to take that out and to use that,” said Newman. “And it’s not like you have to go shout it from the rooftop, maybe it just means that you talk to one of your LGBT friends.”

Newman pointed to two main causes for the high rates of mental health issues in LGBT individuals.

The first of these is minority stress — which refers to anxieties that come from being part of a marginalized group in society.

Psychology Club Secretary Eason Taylor believes that this marginalization is the reason why conversations about issues in the LGBT community are so important.

“It’s on the groups that are traditionally in power to be more accepting and open in their worldviews and welcome these groups into society with open arms instead of letting them feel oppressed and marginalized,” he said.

The second cause of mental health issues, Newman said, is a lack of culturally competent healthcare providers.

Newman argued that most healthcare professionals don’t receive adequate training in how to care for LGBT individuals, and said she only remembers reading one chapter about LGBT individuals while getting her degree.

“Not many people are getting the kind of education necessary to treat such a large community,” she said.

Additionally, Newman pointed out that very little clinical research exists about the LGBT community. Though there is a lot of research about gay men, there’s significantly less about lesbian women and bisexual individuals.

When it comes to queer, intersex and asexual individuals, research is even more severely lacking.

“For the transgender population, research is in its infancy. We still have barely scratched the surface,” Newman said.

The little research that has been done has shown alarming trends, she said.

38 to 65 percent of transgender individuals consider suicide, while 16 to 32 percent of them attempt it. This compares to a 4 percent rate of attempted suicide among the general population.

“The average transgender life expectancy is something insanely low,” said Bridge Builders President Hope Gipson. “If you don’t have these sort of conversations, you’re just ignoring the fact that people are dying because of this. You’re ignoring the fact that people are suffering unnecessarily, and we’re not going to progress at all.”

But for Gipson, this event was not just about statistics — it was about saving lives.

“The people in this room, a lot of them are future psychologists, future nurses, things like that. These are people who can take this into their careers and actually address this. If even one of the nurses goes into the profession with the idea that ‘I need to be better at LGBT healthcare,’ they’ll probably save someone’s life,” Gipson said.

Offering help is not a complicated process, Newman said. The first step can simply be acceptance.

“We all want to be loved, we all want to be celebrated and we all want to be supported. That’s what acceptance looks like,” she said. “Do what you can, be as proactive as you can and that is probably an excellent place to be in.”

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