How to be an ally for the LGTBQ+ community
January 22, 2023
Having trouble reaching out to your LGBTQ+ friends?
Mental health problems such as depression and suicidal thoughts can affect anyone, but they are more prevalent among LGBTQ+ youth. According to data collected by Mental Health America (2018) and The Trevor Project (2021), LGBTQ+ teenagers are six times more likely to experience symptoms of depression when compared to non-LGBTQ+ identifying teenagers, and 42% of LGBTQ+ youth had seriously considered suicide in 2021. Being a part of the LGBTQ+ community does not inherently worsen their mental health, but it is their unique identity that can bring forth unaccepting attitudes and discrimination, which are significant risk factors for mental health struggles.
Many younger individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ may not be comfortable in seeking help as they have not yet publicly come out, which can make trust-building difficult in more traditional practices of therapy. On the bright side, we see that LGBTQ+ teenagers are increasingly adept at sharing their personal stories and experiences to fellow teenagers. This is why it is crucial for non-LGBTQ+ identifying youth to actively reach out to LGBTQ+ friends.
Here are 3 tips on how to be a better ally:
It takes a great amount of courage for LGBTQ+ people to come out. If you have a friend who is not publicly out, but has come out to you, it means they place great trust in you. Try to be understanding of what they are going through, even if you cannot personally relate or empathise. Actively listen to see what you can do; perhaps simply being there for them is the support they need to have someone outside the community understand and see them as equals.
2. Confront your own prejudice and bias
You have the ability to help create safe spaces for your LGBTQ+ friends. Discomfort in expressing one’s identity is a significant risk factor of worsening mental health. Therefore, it is imperative to cultivate healthy and supportive environments in your social groups. The number one rule is to not make insensitive jokes at the expense of LGBTQ+ communities. Normalising discriminatory behaviour or being a bystander in situations of injustice can also jeopardise your relationships. When you are unsure about something, you can ask questions – but be inquisitive instead of demeaning.
3. Show your support by speaking up
One of the first steps you can take is to learn about the range of sexual orientations and gender identities on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Be educated so that you can be there for your friends if they reach out for support. Speak up against prejudice – if you hear your peers making fun of the LGBTQ+ community, let them know you don't agree with it and take a stand. If you wish to take a step further, you can also be proactive in supporting LGBTQ+ organisations or share your thoughts on social media platforms. This lets your friends who identify as LGBTQ+ know that you can be there for them if they need to reach out.
Don’t wait till Pride Month like the corporations all do – mental health is important all year round. If you have a friend in mind you want to catch up with, go for it and send them a hi! It may be just what they need.