It’s no mystery that the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Ally, Intersex, etc) community faces numerous challenges. Particularly in small towns such as Grand Junction Colorado it can be all the more difficult to find help for mental health issues. Small towns might also not be as equipped at the community level to provide knowledge and resources for LGBTQ+ persons, leaving many feeling lost.
LGBTQ+ individuals face higher rates of discrimination and mental health issues such as depression and suicide than the general populous. Many teens that have decided to ‘come out of the closet’ (reveal their true gender or sexual identity) are sometimes left homeless or without emotional support due to disownment from family members. LGBTQ+ teens and adults are also more likely to encounter odd occasional harassment from those in their community based on the way they are dressed, carry themselves, or identify. Occasionally even hate crimes such as vandalism or violence can occur towards an LGBTQ+ person as well. So you can imagine the feeling of dread when searching for mental health or medical help!
So what can you do when looking for someone safe to talk to? When searching for a mental health therapist or physician online, the first step is to check your local listings. Friendly therapists or medical providers who publically identify as an ally (individual who is friendly to the community) may advertise visual indicators on their website such as a Safe Zone image or a rainbow flag. When making calls to a therapist or physician, don’t be afraid to ask if the individual(s) you will be working with considers themselves to be an Ally or LGBTQ+ friendly.
For transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals in particular being sure that your therapist or doctor is familiar with gender related issues (e.g. transitional needs such as hormone replacement therapy or blockers, pronoun and name preference, and social/family stigmas surrounding the coming out process) is crucial in your future treatment. If they are unfamiliar with the community and do not feel comfortable working with you, ask whether they know of someone who might be better equipped to help. Remember, all mental health and medical providers are selling a service to you as the customer, and as the customer you have a right to know what you are getting in to before moving forward with any sort of treatment.
If you happen to be a mental health or medical provider, what can you do to help? First, familiarize yourself with LGBTQ+ terminology and current issues. Don’t assume someone’s gender or sexual orientation upon their arrival to your office. When in doubt the proper way to address questions is to simply ask. “Are there any pronouns you go by? What about name preferences?” “Do you have any sexual or intimate partner(s)?” versus "Do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend?" Don’t be shy to ask your client or patient for more information on these topics. They are seeking you out for your expertise, and as their care coordinator you should the same. Also, be sure to check your local mental health or medical listings for providers who work regularly with the LGBTQ+ community.
Devin Pinkston is a local mental health counselor and Gender Therapist in Grand Junction Colorado. Call to schedule a free consultation today at 970-644-2392.