Understanding Mental Health Challenges in the LGBT+ Community

Last updated on June 10, 2021.

What Is LGBT+? | LGBT+ in HK | Challenges | Needs | Getting Support | Supporting the Community | LGBT+ Counselling Services

According to a recent study, LGBT+ individuals are more likely to experience negative mental health outcomes than straight people. Up to 64.8% of 1,050 LGBT+ respondents in Hong Kong are found to experience mild or above depressive symptoms, according to a 2018 study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The strong association between LGBT+ and mental health issues may be due to the lack of support LGBT+ people receive from the heterosexual-dominated culture, especially in Hong Kong. The dominance of heteronormativity, which assumes heterosexuality to be the default sexual orientation, also contributes to a negative view of the LGBT+ community by the public. As a result, LGBT+ people, being the sexual minority, have a higher risk of suffering from mental health challenges. 

Read this comprehensive mental health guide to the LGBT+ community to gain a better understanding of the challenges, needs and possible ways to support the LGBT+ community. 

What is LGBT+?

In a nutshell, LGBT+ stands for lesbian (L), gay (G), bisexual (B) and transgender/transexual (T); where the plus sign (+) intends to also involve people with sexualities other than the four most common non-heterosexual sexual orientations (LGBT) in the community. LGBT+ is an umbrella term that is often used when referring to  individuals who do not identify themselves as heterosexual.

Biological sex, gender identity and sexual orientation

Before we go into depths to discuss the LGBT+ community, a few several concepts are essential to understanding gender identity and sexuality:

  • Biological sex: biological sex is the physical characteristics that a person is born with.  
  • Gender identity: gender identity how an individual defines their gender. Cisgenders are people with gender identity which aligns with their biological sex. Transgenders are those with gender identity which does not align with their biological sex. 
  • Sexual orientation: describes the gender that an individual is physically, spiritually and emotionally attracted to. 

Types of sexual orientation

Sexual orientation describes the pattern of emotional, romantic and sexual attraction to people of a particular gender. With heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality being the most known categories, sexual orientation is a wide spectrum with complex possibilities. Some common types of sexual orientations include:

  • Gay 
  • Lesbian 
  • Bisexual 
  • Queer
  • Asexual
  • Pansexual
  • Sapiosexual 

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LGBT+ community in Hong Kong

In 2017, the LGBT+ Inclusion Index in Hong Kong obtained an average of 1.83 out of 3 points, showing that more companies are striving to provide an LGBT-friendly workplace in recent years. Despite the increasing number of LGBT-friendly workplaces, Hong Kong still maintains a negative view of the LGBT+ community. In one particular study, psychologists invited 1,008 Hong Kong adults to express their views on LGBT rights in Hong Kong. Surprisingly, up to 34.12% of respondents admitted that they possess a negative attitude to homosexuality. 

Chan (2008) further pointed out that Hong Kong still has not created a fully inclusive environment for sexual minorities. One reason is that gay and lesbian individuals dominate most LGBT+ events, making people with other sexual orientations like bisexual and asexual under-represented in major LGBT+ events in Hong Kong. 

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Mental health challenges in the LGBT+ community

Discrimination and homophobia

Not only does the LGBT+ community frequently experiences discrimination, but the community also has to cope with homophobia, the hatred and hostility towards homosexuality or the LGBT group. One particular research examined Hong Kong people’s attitude towards non-heterosexual people and a majority of 76% local respondents agreed that Hong Kong people show disciminatory behavior towards LGBT+ individuals. Another study also found that 80% LGBT+ participants reported that they had been treated disrespectfully in the past due to their sexuality.

Psychological distress

Many LGBT+ people share the thoughts: “I am different from other people.” These thoughts may reduce their sense of belonging and connection with people outside their community and further cause emotional distress, which can be harmful to their mental health in the long-term. It is not uncommon that LGBT+ individuals feel like they have to conceal their sexual orientation from their family and friends worrying about the uncertain consequences after coming out. Fearing that they may be rejected by their loved ones, extra stress and anxiety are put on them time after time.. The LGBT+ community may also experience stress because of marriage, as a study suggested that many gay couples struggle with the lack of right to get married with their partner. 

Fear of losing social connections

Aside from feeling different, the fear of losing existing social connections is also a key contributor to the psychological distress many LGBT+ people experience. In general, many LGBT+ people are afraid of not being accepted by others, which in extreme cases may jeopardize their friendships or even family relationships. Many may not understand the struggles LGBT+ people face, and hence feel “betrayed” or “deceived” when their friends or family members come out to them. In fear of losing social connections, LGBT+ individuals may choose to keep things to themselves and suffer more from stress and anxiety.  

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Understanding the needs of the LGBT+ community

Social support

Social support is as important to the LGBT+ community as it is to everyone. A previous study identified perceptions by others (50%) and losing social connections (42%) as primary concerns of the LGBT+ community. Other research established that many LGBT+ people suffer from psychological distress due to the lack of social support and the “feeling different.” Support from family and friends can be of utmost importance to LGBT+ people, who might suffer from psychological distress feeling anxious for the unforeseen consequences following their confession of sexual orientation. LGBT+ people from traditional families, in particular, may face even greater obstacles under such traditional values as to continue the family line by marriage and childbearing. A loving group of family and friends who are willing to accept differences in sexuality is particularly essential for LGBT+ people to stand up against the adversities they face.

An inclusive community for LGBT+ people

Many LGBT+ people reported being treated disrespectfully or even being bullied by homophobic people. In fact, many LGBT+ people find it difficult to build good relationships with their colleagues because of their sexual orientation. 

The sexual minorities may find it challenging to connect with their heterosexual peers when faced with social stigma and discrimination. The feeling of social isolation and loneliness may be hard to bear to many, especially in LGBT+ teenagers whose understandings of their own sexual orientation may be inadequate. Involvement with an established, non-judgmental LGBT+ community where LGBT+ individuals can meet others in a similar position and get answers about their sexuality is therefore of great importance. 

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How can the LGBT+ community get support?

The LGBT+ community experiences numerous mental health challenges, which expose them to the risk of developing mental disorders like depression and anxiety, causing severe impacts on their mental well-being. If you are a member of the LGBT+ community, below are some tips for you to get support: 

1. Joining a LGBT+ support group

Members of the LGBT+ community may consider getting support by joining an LGBT+ support group formed by people from the LGBT+ community who encountered similar situations.  Getting in touch with other LGBT+ people, by participating in workshops and activities organized by local LGBT organizations for example, may also help them reduce their psychological distress by providing a channel to confide. Most importantly, always bear in mind that you are not alone in this journey!

2. Using LGBT+ social apps

If you feel like you are not ready to meet other LGBT+ people face-to-face, you may consider reaching out to the LGBT+ community using online LGBT+ social apps. Many social apps such as Grindr and Her are designed explicitly for the LGBT+ community, so feel free to connect with other LGBT+ people virtually, or even find a partner using dating apps. 

3. Seeking for professional LGBT+ counseling services 

As LGBT+ people generally are at higher risk of experiencing mental health challenges, members of the LGBT+ community may consider getting professional help from trained counselors and therapists. Many LGBT+ organizations provide LGBT+ counseling services. If you feel like the therapist may not fully understand your struggles, some psychological centers also offer an option for you to select a therapist who also belongs to the LGBT+ community. 

Mental Health in Hong Kong: Seeing a Psychologist

Ways to support the LGBT+ community

Your support and understanding are indispensable to building an inclusive society for the sexual minorities. Here are a few things you can do to support the LGBT+ community. 

1. Volunteering at LGBT+ organizations

Even if you are not LGBT+, you can still volunteer as an ally! In fact, many straight people support the LGBT community by volunteering at LGBT+ organizations. As a straight ally, you can also offer support for the LGBT+ community by organizing workshops and activities. Moreover, you can also directly reach out to the community and learn more about the challenges and needs of the community. 

2. Joining the pride parade

Apart from volunteering, simple joining a LGBT+ event can also show your support for the LGBT+ community. The LGBT+ pride parade in November is an annual march in Hong Kong advocating LGBT rights. By joining the pride parade, you may demonstrate your support for the community by directly promoting the LGBT rights to the general public. 

3. Always be there for them

If your friend ever comes out to you, always try to empathize and understand the challenges and difficulties they have been going through before judging. When an LGBT+ person decides to come out to you, it means that they trust you and feel close to you. So don’t leave your LGBT+ friend or family member alone and always love them for who they are. Lastly, always remember that it takes courage for them to confess. Their sexual orientation does not make them less a friend to you than they have been! 

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LGBT+ Counselling Services

In case of need for immediate support, please do not hesitate to reach out to mental health professionals. Below is a list of organizations that offers LGBT+ counseling services:

Rainbow of Hong Kong 
Address: Room D, 7/F, National Court, 242 Nathan Road, Jordan, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: 2769 1069
Email: [email protected] 

Lifespan Counselling
Address: 15/F, Somptueux Central, 52 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: 3752 0654
Email: [email protected] 

MindNLife
Address: Suite 1202, Chinachem Hollywood Centre, 1 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: 2521 4668
Email: [email protected]

Neo-Health Group 
Address: Unit 1106, 11/F, World-Wide House, 19 Des Voeux Road Central, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: 3160 4886
Email: [email protected] 

Central Minds Limited 
Address: 8th & 10th Floor VC House, 4-6 On Lan Street, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: 2813 6108
Email: Not applicable 

This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.