I am a suicide survivor. I share this with you, as every word that follows is a gift. I am grateful to be alive and that I can share my story with you. Today I live a full, joyous, and healthy life free of debilitating depression, thoughts of suicide, or a chronic substance use disorder; I know that others are not so lucky.
Recent reports indicate nearly 50,000 people die by suicide in America each year. If that number sounds striking, consider this: For every suicide death, there are 30 suicide attempts. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ+) individuals face an extraordinarily elevated risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior. LGBTQ+ adults have a two-fold excess risk of suicide attempts compared to other adults; among transgender adults, the lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts is 40 percent, and nearly two million queer youth ages 13 to 24 consider suicide each year.
While mental illness affects all communities, LGBTQ+ and other sexual minority and gender-diverse populations face unique challenges compared to their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. LGBTQ+ individuals are three times as likely to experience a mental health disorder in comparison to individuals who identify as straight. Approximately 40 percent of LGBTQ+ adults had a mental illness in the past year, in comparison to the 18 percent of the total adult population who faced a mental illness in the past year. LGBTQ+ individuals also are more likely to abuse substances at an estimated percentage of 25 percent due to factors such as prejudice and discrimination, in comparison to the 9 percent substance abuse of the general population.
Most LGBTQ+ individuals are incredibly resilient and thrive in the face of adversity with the help of supportive families, communities, and peers. However, the community is at particular risk for experiencing shame, racism, fear, discrimination, and adverse and traumatic events, and that increased risk is correlated with interpersonal, institutional, and structural discrimination.
The stigma surrounding mental health in the LGBTQ+ community leaves millions struggling with the impact of intolerance and suffering in silence. It is imperative we acknowledge the prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorders among LGBTQ+ people and find hope and healing through clinicians and communities while continuing to break down the oppressive practices that contribute to psychiatric distress. If left untreated, behavioral health concerns can impede all aspects of health including emotional well-being and social development, leaving people feeling isolated, stigmatized, and unable to thrive in a world that demands so much from us.
To address these concerns, Jerry Cunningham and I founded Envision:You in 2018. Envision:You is a statewide, multi-year initiative that addresses the disproportionate impact mental health and substance use disorders have on Colorado’s LGBTQ+ community. To advance this mission, I have the opportunity to work with a team of individuals committed to improving the well-being and welfare of LGBTQ+ folks including Nancy Lorenzon, Darcey Cunningham, Claire Abate, Hayden Evans, Maggie Phillips, and Michelle Williams-Garcia. In addition to my rewarding work with Envision:You, I have the pleasure of working for the Mental Health Center of Denver, an organization committed to improving the well-being of all the people we serve.
Finally, I am thankful to the OUT FRONT Magazine staff for their collaboration on this publication. Without their dedication and passion for increasing attention to these important issues, what you will read and see in the following pages would not be possible.
It is my wish after reading this issue that you will find hope and inspiration to lead you to better mental health.