Recently, I started volunteering with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). I’d had positive experiences presenting at some of their educational classes years ago while in private practice. The organization also provided excellent resources for many of my clients. After attending a NAMI Alamance County Affiliate meeting via Zoom not long ago it was clear to me that I wished to be involved again. NAMI has its ducks in a row. It is a wide-reaching group that’s highly organized, offering training, education and assistance. As a society, it appears that we are becoming more open when it comes to discussing mental health issues. No doubt, it helps when celebrities and Olympic athletes disclose their challenges with mental illness, but there’s still more work to do when it comes to eliminating the stigma.
I don’t reveal that I’m Bi-polar unless I feel that it is safe to do so, and in very specific contexts. For instance, sometimes it was helpful, if not also therapeutic to share my diagnosis with certain clients who were having difficulty managing their disorder. Or when, as I mentioned, I was presenting for educational purposes. This condition is often associated with major mood swings and chaotic episodes that create turmoil and distress. Stereotypes like these can make it embarrassing to reveal that you’ve got an illness or seek guidance. Symptoms vary for different individuals, and so does treatment. What helped me the most was learning about MY condition and discovering how many people actually have Bi-polar disorder. It helped me to not feel so alone, or so crazy.
I was not aware, until very recently, how dedicated NAMI is to the LGBTQI community. The scope of their research far exceeds what I have highlighted here. I encourage folks to visit their website (one of many listed below).
- LGBT adults are more than twice as likely as heterosexual adults to experience a mental health condition. Transgender individuals are nearly four times as likely to experience a mental health condition.
- LGB youth and Transgender youth experience greater risk for mental health conditions and suicidality.
- For many LGBTQI people, socioeconomic and cultural conditions negatively impact mental health conditions. Discrimination, prejudice, denial of civil and human rights, harassment and family rejection can lead to new or worsened symptoms.
- A powerful and unique challenge facing LGBTQI people is the issue of Coming Out. Revealing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity may impact social experiences and relationships.
- Serious problems such as substance abuse (self-medication) are nearly twice as amongst LGBTQI people and almost four times as likely for Transgender individuals. Homelessness is estimated to be 120% higher. The LGBTQI population is at a higher risk for suicide attempts than the heterosexual population, four times as likely amongst LGBTQI High School students, and 40% higher amongst Transgender adults.
It is validating for me that NAMI addresses both mental health and LGBTQI issues in the same breath. It recognizes the unique difficulties of what it can mean to be LGBTQI and correlates this to scientific findings about the impact on mental health.
Reaching out and asking for help isn’t always easy, but it can make all the difference in the world. Finding the right Mental Health Professional is key. Think about what you’re looking for – a provider who is a part of the LGBTQI community, or someone who has competency in LGBTQI issues. Male or female. Don’t be afraid to have preferences. Communicate with local LGBTQI community centers, health centers, support groups, learning institutions, for potential referral resources.
NC NAMI Helpline 800-451-9682
LGBTQI National Help Center - offers confidential peer support or LGBT youth, adults and seniors, including phone, text and online chat (www.glbthotline.org)
The National Center for Transgender Equality - offers resources individuals for transgender individuals including information on the right to access health care (transequality.org)
Trans Lifeline – peer support, run by and for trans people (translifeline.org)
For more information about NAMI, visit their website at nami.org
Cindy Davis is a retired Licensed Professional Counselor.
She was an advice columnist for the Times-News, and is also a PFLAG Board Member.
Watch for Cindy's column each month on our Newsletter