How to Close Mental Health Disparities in the LGBTQ+ Population

Note: The following post discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs 24/7 immediate support, call 1-844-493-TALK (8255), text TALK to 38255 or visit the Walk-In Center at 4353 E. Colfax Ave. in Denver. For more information and additional locations: For support outside Colorado, call 988.

The LGBTQ+ community faces unique challenges that impact mental health, leading to an increased risk of suicide, anxiety, depression, substance use disorders, eating disorders and more. 

LGBTQ+ Suicide Rates a Crisis, Especially Among Youth

“Across the board, we see suicide rates at two to four times greater than cisgender, straight individuals,” said Steven Haden (he/him), chief executive officer and founder of Envision:You. This data is based on research conducted by Envision:You and other organizations, including The Trevor Project, the National Institutes of Health and Newport Academy.

Suicidality is especially a crisis among young LGBTQ+ individuals. According to a report from The Trevor Project, 41% of LGBTQ+ youth have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.

Creating Safe Spaces for LGBTQ+ Community in Behavioral Health Settings

Envision:You is a Denver-based organization that seeks to close gaps in behavioral health outcomes for LGBTQ+ individuals. The organization partners with WellPower, as well as other behavioral health organizations, to train providers on how to provide high quality, culturally relevant and affirming mental health care. 

As a suicide survivor himself, Steven has dedicated his life’s work to suicide prevention among the LGBTQ+ community. He previously worked at WellPower to support the well-being of the people we serve, and since then has founded and built an organization that provides training for professionals and community members, conducts its own research, advocates for public policy, helps inform school policies, and offers tangible resources for the LGBTQ+ community.

“The work I get to do at Envision:You and working with primarily LGBTQ+ clients is deeply personal to me,” Steven said. “I’m so grateful we get to that work, and I appreciate the way we do it.”

Envision:You’s Behavioral Health Provider Training Program is evidence-based and co-created by behavioral health professionals and individuals with lived experience. The training focuses on providing care through a trauma-informed lens that takes the whole person into account.

“The prevalence of trauma in the LGBTQ+ community – combined with stressors of discrimination, harassment, bullying and a lack of affirming environments – all conspire to create these really significant mental health disparities,” Steven said. “What compounds the issue for LGBTQ+ individuals is that when they need to access care, that care is often not affirming, and in some cases, can perpetuate trauma. It might be well-intentioned. But, in the absence of training, education and specific work in this space, we are perpetuating harm through micro-aggressions or misgendering people.”

The training also provides important context for providers. For example, prior to 1973, it was considered a diagnosable disorder to identify as LGBTQ+.

“With that history of pathology, members of the LGBTQ+ community might mistrust professionals in the behavioral health space, and that’s important for a mental health professional to understand,” Steven said. “Many people in our community don’t feel comfortable coming out to their doctor, or they might have a fear of rejection or harassment in their provider’s office. They might not be able to share their true identity with their healthcare providers, and that’s not going to result in effective care.”

The training also dives into specific actions behavioral health care providers can take to create affirming environments. For example, giving individuals the ability to self-identify their gender on a form can help ensure everyone from the receptionist to the medical provider is using a person’s name and pronouns correctly. 

“One thing we know is that higher rates of mental health issues, plus less access to affirming care, can combine to create environments that significantly increase the risk of suicide,” Steven said. “As community-based organizations, our leaders can work together to create solutions so that death by suicide is not the second-leading cause of death of young people in the US.” 

More About Envision:You

In addition to training behavioral health care professionals, Envision:You provides workshops for community members, including parents, coaches, teachers and faith leaders. The organization also advocates for legislation, helps to create inclusive school policies and is working to develop suicide screening tools – specific to LGBTQ+ youth – for medical providers. Envision:You is also developing an app, You:Flourish, to promote well-being and provide peer support for LGBTQ+ youth. Learn more about Envision:You here or follow them on social media @envisionyouco.