Sexual Minorities

For college students that are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or those questioning their sexuality, there are often added stresses that can lead to high rates of depression and suicide, according to an article by Lynn Zuberniss and Mathew Snyder in the Journal of College Student Psychotherapy.

PRISM sponsored a sexual minorities celebration on campus; building a sense of community is part of the club’s motives
-Charlotte Rodina

Mental health affects college-age individuals at a high rate because of stress about identity, relationships and transitioning from the home to living away from family. The article says that stress is added when sexual minority individuals must deal with life’s everyday concerns along with managing the stigma associated with not being heterosexual.

“Destructive attitudes absorbed from society can be internalized as homophobia, and GLBT students may feel like outsiders,” the article explains.

Kristen Lamb, president of the University of Mary Washington’s PRISM (People for the Rights of Individuals of Sexual Minorities) stated that members of the queer community need support, especially when “coming out,” or revealing their sexual identity.

“It adds a lot of stress because people will worry about how their family and friends will react,” said Lamb.

In many cases, members of sexual minorities hide their true identities to avoid the risk of feeling like an outsider or to avoid being bullied, according to Lamb.

“Verbal harassment, name-calling, ridicule and rejection are significant stressors that can increase risk for depression, anxiety, substance abuse and even suicide,” according to the article.

A recent collection of research, put together by the Journal of Homosexuality in conjunction with the American

Ben Lerman performs at a PRISM celebration event
-Charlotte Rodina

Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, claims that all of the stresses associated with sexual minorities lead to increased rates of depression and therefore increased rates of suicide.

The research stated that, “at age 21, those who identified as LGB were six times more likely than those who identified as heterosexual to report one or more lifetime suicide attempts.”

The “coming out” process may add stress, and it is important to note this stress is what leads to long term illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

Dr. Nicole Surething, UMW’s psychologist, warns that, “because a student may be LGBT does not mean they may have a mental illness. There is a stigma associated with this community and we need to be careful with not increasing this stigma by assuming that this population may have more mental illness.”

As with any mental health illness, coping methods vary and depend on the problem and how the individual affected relates to the issue.

Professor Miriam Liss, a psychology professor with expertise in gender studies, suggests students cope by seeking help from psychological services and group therapy sessions.

Professor Kilmartin
-Charlotte Rodina

Chris Kilmartin, professor of psychology, agrees that these methods are important for coping.

In addition, he suggested that healthy eating, exercise  and adequate amounts of sleep are all important for a stable mind.

Besides being a club, PRISM acts as a support group as well. With meetings every night at 9 p.m. on campus, the group aims to attract respectful and inclusive members. Members organize multiple events each semester to build a sense of community.

“We try to make a safe space for everyone,” said Lamb.

Additionally, in past semesters, “CAPS provided a Gender Identity Support group for students who identified as having gender identity concerns. The group was advertised through PRISM,” according to Nicole Surething, the director of CAPS. She expects this group to start back up this spring.

“No matter what, we are there for whoever wants to talk in a safe environment about gender identity or anything else,” emphasized PRISM’s Lamb.

By Charlotte Rodina