Sexual Orientation

Many Americans of different races, ages, or sex experience a mental illness at one point or another in their lives. This general experience is no different for individuals of sexual orientations outside of heterosexuality. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBTQ) people are susceptible to struggling with a mental illness also. Please note though, an individual identifying him or herself as a sexual orientation other than heterosexuality is not considered a mental illness.




Terms to Understand


  • Gay- refers to a man who is emotionally and sexually attracted to other men.
  • Lesbian (or gay woman)- refers to a woman who is emotionally and sexually attracted to other women.
  • Bisexual- refers to someone (man or woman) who is emotionally and sexually attracted to both sexes.
  • Transgendered- does not refer to sexual orientation; but to gender identity. This refers to someone’s sense of being a man or woman, boy or girl. Those who identify as transgendered can be heterosexual, gay, lesbian or bisexual.


Those who identify as LGBTQ often have unique struggles that can affect their mental health and well-being. Negative stigma from society and the resulting prejudice and discrimination can be a cause of elevated depression, anxiety, or substance abuse issues in the LGBTQ community.  In extreme cases, discrimination towards LGBTQ people can manifest as verbal or physical violence against them. Violence like this can lead to serious anxiety disorders, such as post traumatic stress disorder.

In addition to the societal stigmas that can lead to increased risk for mental illness in the LGBTQ community, they may also have less support on which to rely.  In some cases they do not have the strong family support that can be beneficial in dealing with a mental illness, as some families may not be accepting of the individual’s gender identity or sexual orientation. In extreme situations, a LGBTQ person’s family may have completely cut ties with him or her, or ejected the individual from their home, leaving them to find their own means of support and survival.



LGBTQ or Questioning Adolescents


Adolescence is a time of significant physical, mental and emotional development and change.  Naturally, teens are trying to understand their sexuality. For adolescents who identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, or are questioning their sexual orientation, this stage in their lives can be even more daunting and confusing than what the average teen experiences.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that, in many cases, a LGBTQ teen or a teen perceived by peers as LGBTQ is subjected to intense harassment or victimization in the school setting, which can lead to harmful mental health consequences, such as increased levels of anxiety and depression.  Another stressor faced by LGBTQ teens is the task of disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity- often called “coming out”- to those close to them; friends or family. It can be stressful to consider admitting this to loved ones due to a fear of judgment, rejection or a complete loss of family ties.  With the risk of suicide being higher in adolescents in general, it is important to recognize that LGBTQ teens can be more vulnerable to mental health issues, including suicide, as they progress through adolescence.


In providing mental health care to those in the LGBTQ community, it is important to recognize and understand the unique needs of these individuals and the support that can help those in need to live healthy and happy lives.



Sexual Orientation Clinicians