- Increased Risk for Negative Outcomes
- The LGBTQ+ community can be at increased risk for mental health challenges and negative outcomes like suicide because of societal expectations, discrimination, or rejection.
- Avoid Narrow Depiction of Challenges
- LGBTQ+ mental health challenges aren’t always connected to sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Wide Range of Experiences
- Tell stories that reflect the wide range of experiences of the LGBTQ+ community and don’t singularly tie mental health challenges to coming out, mistreatment, or sexual orientation.
Portray a Range of Mental Health Experiences
- Look for ways to expand the narrative about LGBTQ+ people and mental health beyond hurdles related to coming out, mistreatment, and rejection.
- LGBTQ+ people experience the full range of mental health challenges and experiences that any other people deal with, and their challenges aren’t always connected to sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Coming out is a highly personal decision that can be a source of mental health challenges, especially when the LGBTQ+ person who comes out is not immediately accepted. If you are telling a coming out story, seek out resources/experts who can help present authentic stories that incorporate best practices so you don’t inadvertently jeopardize viewers who are planning their own coming out. (See Tips for Coming Out in The Trevor Project’s Handbook for Young People).
- Look for opportunities to tell the stories of more LGBTQ+ characters and cast members who are managing mental health challenges or who sought help to take care of their emotional health.
- A recent study from USC Annenberg found that there were no LGB or Trans characters with mental health conditions in the top films of 2017, and only 8 LGB characters with mental health conditions on TV shows that same year.
Depict Effective, Realistic Help-Seeking and Treatment
- Address the barriers to treatment and help-seeking that members of the LGBTQ+ community face and present solutions. For example, showing therapists trained to support the LGBTQ+ community or with lived experience can reduce fears around asking for help.
- In 2020, 46% of LGBTQ+ youth wanted psychological or emotional counseling but were unable to receive it due to cost, concerns about parental permission, lack of LGBTQ+ competent providers, and other barriers.
Consider the Impact of Language
- If your story includes people who are transgender, it’s important to use the right language. These resources from GLAAD can be helpful.
Move Past Stereotypes
- If your story involves an LGBTQ+ character or cast member, find advisors from the LGBTQ+ community to help guide the narrative and prevent any potential negative emotional impact on viewers.
- Gay and lesbian characters are sometimes seen in stereotypical roles in entertainment media — for example, a gay designer or hairstylist with the great one-liners or an outdoorsy lesbian.
- These portrayals can perpetuate misconceptions and make it harder for this community to find empathy, support, and acceptance, all of which are critical for maintaining mental health. This is especially true for transgender representation.
Provide Resources and Calls to Action
- When telling stories at the intersection of LGBTQ+ identity and mental health, include dedicated resources that offer support to members of the LGBTQ+ community.
- Sometimes LGBTQ+ people do not seek out traditional mental health support or private therapists due to financial limitations, privacy concerns, or other reasons. Local LGBTQ+ community centers, organizations like the Trevor Project and Trans LifeLine, and various online resources and communities are often where LGBTQ+ people turn for mental health support. Seek out experts who can provide recommendations authentic to your character/storyline.
The relationship between the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community and mental health is complicated. On one hand, it wasn’t that long ago that homosexuality was incorrectly and harmfully classified as a mental illness, and there are people who still believe that false and discredited idea to be true.
At the same time, because LGBTQ+ people may experience discrimination and rejection, this community is at increased risk for mental health challenges and negative outcomes like suicide.
The following definitions from the GLAAD Media Institute provide a basic overview of sexual orientation and gender identity:
Sexual orientation is the scientifically accurate term for an individual’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to members of the same and/or opposite sex, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and heterosexual (straight) orientations. Avoid the offensive term “sexual preference,” which is used to suggest that being gay, lesbian, or bisexual is voluntary and therefore “curable.” People need not have had specific sexual experiences to know their own sexual orientation; in fact, they need not have had any sexual experience at all.
Gender identity is a person’s internal, deeply held sense of their gender. For transgender people, their own internal gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Most people have a gender identity of man or woman (or boy or girl). For some people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into one of those two choices, and may identify as nonbinary and/or genderqueer. Unlike gender expression — that is to say, external manifestations of gender like a person’s name, pronouns, clothing, behavior, and voice — gender identity is not visible to others. For more information on the LGBTQ community, you can refer to GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide or get in touch with any of the relevant organizations listed in the Expert Directory.
Facts and Stats