-Mayah Taylor, MA
For individuals of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex, one can often feel isolated, marginalized, alienated by others, and shamed based upon sexual orientation and gender identity. The emotional roller coaster that individuals of the LGBTQI community can be challenging and also painful. This in turn can lead to struggles with mental health issues including major depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and self-injurious behaviors. Today we take a closer look at the relationship between self-injury or self-injurious behaviors and sexual orientation.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the LGBTQI community is almost 3 times more likely to experience mental illness. You may ask why this population is affected so severely with mental health illness. There are many different reasons that link the LGBTQI community to mental illness and self-injury for that matter. Individuals of the LGBTQI community face a unique set of challenges than the average person. Quite often they are faced with fear, shame, guilt, secrecy, discrimination, stigma, prejudice, ridicule, and rejection. Among the spectrum of mental illnesses the community faces, suicide and self-harm seems to affect many in the LGBTQI community the most. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports, “For LGBTQ people aged 10–24, suicide is one of the leading causes of death. LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely and questioning youth are 3 times more likely to attempt suicide, experience suicidal thoughts or engage in self-harm than straight people. Between 38-65% of transgender individuals experience suicidal ideation.”
It’s important to explain the difference between suicide and self-injury as they can sometimes overlap. Self-injury can be defined as an act done to one’s self, by one’s self, not for the purpose of suicide. Cutting is the most common method of self-injury. Other examples of self-injury can include burning, skin picking, interfering with healing of wounds, self-hitting, and hair pulling. Many clients that we see in our practice that are part of the LGBTQI community describe their reasoning for engaging in self-injury as a way to escape the pain or whatever emotion they are feeling overwhelmed by. Other clients present their reasoning for self-injury as a way of maintaining that sense of ‘control’ or as a way to punish themselves. There are a variety of reasons why this community engages in self-injurious behaviors, but these reasons all have one thing in common. They all provide the individual a method of coping with the challenges they face when it seems like they have no one and nothing to reach out to for help.
What is the relationship between self-injury and sexual orientation? The answer is not always clear. Certainly, being LGBTQI does not mean you are going to self-injure. Nor does being a self-injurer, mean that someone is LGBTQI. So while there does seem to be a salient relationship between self-injury and sexual orientation, more research needs to be conducted in this area.
Self-injury can lead to severe consequences to include death. It is important that any individual who is engaging in self injurious behaviors or having thoughts or urges to self-harm to seek help from a professional. When seeking professional help, remember to find someone that you feel comfortable with and that you trust. Doing so can make the therapeutic process easier as you share with them your story. It is also helpful to make sure you are linked to organizations that is supportive of the LGBTQI community. This can be helpful in finding supportive, like minded people to talk to about your journey and who can listen to your worries and answer questions you may have. Surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family members is also a helpful addition. The important thing is to have strong, positive support systems around you.
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