People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer/questioning (LGBTQ+) are at higher risk of substance use disorder than their heterosexual, cisgender counterparts. Studies show that LGBTQ+ adults are more than twice as likely to suffer from mental health conditions than other populations.
Social stigma and discrimination are a couple of factors driving substance abuse and other mental health conditions in this population. However, perhaps even more impactful for many members of the LGBTQ+ community is family support, or lack thereof.
Family rejection due to sexual orientation or gender identity can contribute to substance use. At the end of the day, we all want to feel accepted and like we belong. Being rejected by the people who are supposed to show us unconditional love — our families — can be incredibly damaging.
5 ways to support your loved one who has come out as LGBTQ+
If your family member, friend or other loved one has just come out as LGBTQ+, here are several ways you can step up and become a source of strength and support.
1. Take a look at your own personal beliefs and biases
Maybe the news (or possibility) of your loved one being LGBTQ+ has been difficult for you to process. Maybe you’re actively disappointed, or maybe you’re worried about the backlash your loved one may face by coming out. Maybe you believed you completely accepted people with other sexual orientations or gender identities, but now that someone close to you has come out, you’re realizing you’ve been harboring some unconscious stigma and bias.
If you value your relationship with your loved one, it’s time to challenge any previously held negative beliefs or assumptions and move on. Take an honest look at yourself, the people around you and even the media you consume. Remember that your words can be powerful, especially for the people who love you, and choosing them with care and sensitivity can go a long way in helping your loved one thrive rather than negatively affect their mental and emotional health.
You might also need to clear up some misconceptions and stereotypes by educating yourself about the LGBTQ+ community. Check out this list of resources for families of LGBTQ+ individuals compiled by the American Library Association.
2. Affirm your loved one’s LGBTQ+ identity
If you’re shocked by or uncomfortable with your loved one’s LGBTQ+ status, or just unsure of how to talk to them about it, you might be tempted to ignore the topic altogether.
Coming out as LGBTQ+ takes significant courage. Your family member or friend felt it was important to share this part of their identity with you, so it’s important to acknowledge and respect them for exactly who they are. As an example, you can make sure you’re using your transgender loved one’s preferred pronouns.
3. Ask questions and listen to the answers
In addition to researching and educating yourself, don’t be afraid to ask questions to increase your understanding when appropriate. This helps to keep the conversation open. Offer a sympathetic ear when your loved one needs to share their thoughts and feelings around coming out and any challenges they may be experiencing and be open to learning from their perspective.
Just be sure to avoid asking questions that are too personal in nature. If it’s something you wouldn’t ask a heterosexual and/or cisgender friend or relative about, don’t ask your LGBTQ+ loved one. It’s that simple.
4. Defend your loved one and the broader LGBTQ+ community
One of the reasons a parent, relative or friend might struggle with their loved one coming out as LGBTQ+ is concern about the discrimination, harrassment, bullying or abuse they could potentially face from people who don’t accept them.
You can help your loved one by becoming what’s known as an ally, or a heterosexual and cisgender individual who actively supports equal rights and gender equality for the LGBTQ+ community, challenging homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.
While you don’t want to put yourself or your loved one in danger if someone is becoming aggressive toward them, there are ways to challenge (and potentially educate) others when they make offensive or negative comments. For instance, if you’re at a holiday gathering with your gay relative and another family member makes a disparaging remark about gay people, be brave enough to speak up, as your silence could be taken as agreement or acceptance of homophobia.
5. Encourage them to seek mental health treatment
If your loved one is struggling with substance use after coming out as LGBTQ+, they may need to seek professional therapy. Unfortunately, members of the LGBTQ+ community often experience discrimination at the doctor as well, so it’s crucial to make sure the treatment center they choose is LGBTQ+ friendly.
Silvermist is a residential addiction treatment program for young adults that provides the perfect setting for a transformative recovery experience and a sense of belonging. Our highly individualized treatment ensures each client’s unique needs are met.
At the heart of our 20-bed program is a team of licensed and experienced clinical professionals who offer each resident at Silvermist a unique, person-focused plan for recovery. Silvermist’s programs will address the complexities of drug addiction, alcohol addiction as well as underlying trauma, PTSD and co-occurring mental health challenges.
Give us a call today to find out how your loved one can benefit from substance abuse treatment at Silvermist.