Psychological Issues Faced by Homosexual Students on College Campuses
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) college students experience unique challenges related to emotional and physical well-being. College administrators and faculty members have an obligation to meet these needs through effective education. Fortunately, many of these challenges are related, with a common theme: coping in an often hostile, anti-gay, heteronormative world.
One major factor affecting the mental health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) individuals is prejudice. People who suffer from prejudice may have difficulties adjusting to college life and may feel isolation. College campuses are traditionally considered a safe environment for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. However, that safety can be fleeting as individuals who are motivated to hate or be angry due to discrimination and hate speech experience difficulty adjusting to college life.
Another major factor impacting mental health and wellness in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people is internalized sexual orientation discrimination. Discrimination occurs when two or more people treat someone else differently because of their sexual orientation. The result of this behavior can be violent, verbal abuse, and abuse of a sexual nature. Harassment on campus can be particularly harmful, with a single instance of prejudice creating a sense of fear and instability among those who are already feeling unsafe and unwell. Those who experience verbal or physical harassment should seek help from a student support group, a school counselor, or a school administrator. Those who are the target of prejudice may find themselves unable to perform ordinary tasks, and may feel helpless and overwhelmed.
Drug use is another significant issue facing LGBT youth today. Frequently, young people who are struggling with sexual orientation and identity become desperate for a sense of belonging and acceptance from others. After being subjected to discrimination and abuse, some individuals begin to experiment with drugs in an effort to find a sense of identity and significance. Unfortunately, drug use can be counterproductive, causing the student to withdraw from school, lose friends, and cause a deterioration of academic performance in sports.
Mental health issues caused by prejudice and discrimination are higher rates than those associated with any other type of minority group. In addition, LGBT people of color are more likely to experience a higher rate of serious psychological disorders. These higher rates are linked to a number of factors, including lack of education, poverty, higher rates of violence and abuse, lesser access to quality healthcare, unemployment, lower educational levels, higher rates of substance abuse and addiction, racial discrimination, and lesser exposure to beneficial forms of therapy.
The disproportionate number of mental health issues experienced by LGBT students nationwide highlights the need for inclusive, supportive schools that provide support for everyone. Educators must take a proactive stance in educating their colleagues about identity and prejudice. In addition, educators must take steps to remove the stigmas associated with being gay. For example, restrooms, locker rooms, and other areas should be fully gender-neutral. If this step is not taken, there will be an increase in the negative impact of prejudice and bullying as well as the disproportionate number of LGBT teenagers and adults suffering from mental health concerns that are related to this common environment.
HIV/AIDS is also a growing concern for LGBT adolescents and adults. Many schools lack specific programs and curriculums addressing this STD, causing there to be a lag in providing comprehensive HIV/AIDS education and in offering people living with HIV the protection and resources they need. Currently, there is no federal law that requires schools to offer comprehensive HIV/AIDS competency curriculums. However, school districts are encouraged to consider adding these competency programs so that they can provide comprehensive psychological and behavioral health services to those at risk for contracting HIV.
Stigma can impact an individual’s sense of self-worth and confidence. Those living with HIV or AIDS are frequently subjected to discrimination and stereotyping, creating a negative mental health conditions environment. Because there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, there are many individuals who experience emotional distress due to the stigma surrounding their sexual orientation. Adding a STD evaluation and counseling to schools will create an environment where all students – regardless of sexual orientation – will feel comfortable and welcome.
As the experiences of those diagnosed with a mental condition like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are varied, there is no universal approach to dealing with sexual orientation stigma. School programs can add an educational component to the existing harassment, discrimination, and violence encountered by lesbian, gay, and bisexual (gay) students. The added education will allow students to learn how to deal with emotional health struggles that are similar to those experienced by HIV-positive individuals. Adding a STD assessment and counseling to school activities will assist in the identification and treatment of mental health issues that may accompany stigma-based stigma.
If you, a parent, or a loved one identifies with any of these mental health concerns, it is imperative that you seek professional guidance to ensure that you or your loved one receive the treatment necessary. Being accepted and supported into a same-sex relationship can be a struggle for LGBT individuals. However, being accepted and supported by your LGBT peers is often a key step on the path to recovery and mental health.