The Impact & Significance of Pride Month and Mental Health

June 7, 2024

In 1992, a very close friend of mine was rushed to the hospital for slitting their wrists while away at college. 5 years later they came out to me as gay and shared how their suicide attempt was related to the profound shame they felt within about their sexuality.

In 2000, another friend of mine was admitted to an eating disorder treatment facility for a third time. Soon after,  they came out to me as gay and detailed more about their ongoing struggle with self-hate and fear of how to live their truth in this world.

In 2022, yet another dear friend of mine endured emotional hell and countless arguments with their family, eventually being ostracized by them because their young child who had been actively questioning their gender, was in and out of psychiatric treatment facilities and is currently transitioning and the family at large did not approve or support their child’s gender identity.

Being so near and close to those I loved while they suffered greatly and struggled to find truth and acceptance for their sexual preferences, gender expression and gender identity left me wrestling with and questioning so much in life and in how we humans manage, and sadly mismanage and can better manage with the innate and indelible differences that exist among us all. 

As a cisgender, white, 50 year old female therapist with 25 years of professional experience, I am continually called to the same questions and many more, acknowledging while I can never KNOW firsthand what such a journey is actually like, yet I can always strive to be a better ally.

The Beginning of Pride Month

Each June, as we celebrate Pride Month, and throughout the year, I find myself reflecting on the profound significance of this time, not only for the LGBTQ+ community but for society as a whole. While Pride Month is generally a time of celebration, reflection, and advocacy, it can also be a time of remembrance of deep pain, loss and countless struggles. 

For those unfamiliar with its origins, Pride Month commemorates the turning point for the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. In June of 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a private gay club in New York City’s Greenwich Village, which led to 6 days of riots that followed.  These Stonewall Riots were a pivotal moment in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights since what began as a courageous stand against discrimination has since blossomed into a global celebration of diversity and resilience for 55 years now.

The Value of Self-Acceptance

A sense of self-acceptance is a challenge for many human beings to fully feel, experience and embody. For those who have been oppressed, ridiculed, judged or marginalized by society the fight for self-acceptance can be a matter of life or death. 

Throughout my professional experience, starting from my work in the early 2000’s as a therapist in an HIV mental health clinic in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City, I have witnessed countless transformative personal journeys towards self-acceptance and authenticity, none of which were without intense emotional pain. I have also witnessed the profound challenges that many of my LGBTQ+ clients have faced: family rejection, societal prejudice, internalized shame, discrimination, financial and housing insecurity and real threats to their safety and ability to exist and to live free.

Working towards self-acceptance is strengthened and supported by the others who show they accept us and value us.

Pride Month serves as a beacon of hope and a reminder that they are not alone. It’s a time when the world joins in affirming their identity and celebrating their existence, their value and vitality. And it’s a reminder of how essential it is to create safe, inclusive spaces for all.

In therapy, in the workplace, in our communities and in our families, actively working to understand the unique experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals and advocating for their rights where and when we can is essential when they are and are not present. It’s about listening, learning, and being a steadfast ally, even if those you are trying to support may, at times, not know how to recognize or even take in such support when provided.

Celebrating Progress and Recognizing the Work Ahead

While we’ve made significant strides in LGBTQ+ rights, there is still much work to be done. Legal protections are not uniform, and many individuals continue to face discrimination and violence. 

Pride Month is a time to celebrate our progress but also to acknowledge the ongoing struggles and work to be done. It’s a time to amplify voices that are often marginalized and to recommit to the fight for equality. Being mindful that sometimes, those who have experienced the most discrimination and victimization can carry that trauma in ways that appear offensive to others when in fact they are just working like hell to protect themselves, wheher or not a real threat is actively clear or present. This can all feel tricky, sticky and hard and yet it requires sensitivity and attention in order to chart a new, healthier or more accepting and equal path together.

It’s a time to reflect on our own inner process and orientation to those who identify differently than we do and account for and attend to those spaces in which misunderstanding occurs and where there is continued room for growth. 

I am not proud to say I have made mistakes along the way. I have slipped and unintentionally misgendered those who are important to me, I have misunderstood the impact of or made or laughed at jokes that were experienced by others as hurtful. While we cannot undo what is done, we can always take time to reflect, apologize and begin again with a renewed sense of awareness and a more earnest intention to act and be different.

Fostering Understanding and Empathy

One of the most beautiful aspects of Pride Month is the opportunity it provides for education and empathy. It’s a chance for people to learn about the diverse experiences within the LGBTQ+ community and to challenge their own biases. 

As a therapist, I’ve seen the incredible impact that understanding and empathy can have. You don’t have to be a therapist to take time to listen to others. When we take the time to listen to others’ stories, listen to their experiences, we can begin to break down the walls of prejudice and build bridges of compassion.

Navigating the repair of hurts experienced along the way can feel tenuous, complex, triggering and exhausting. Nonviolent communication is a key in this process on all sides of this journey and it is a continual process requiring much humility, compassion, and ongoing openings to learning for all involved.

Supporting Mental Health

Mental health is a critical issue within the LGBTQ+ community. Rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation are significantly higher among LGBTQ+ individuals, often due to the stigma and discrimination they face. Pride Month is a crucial time to highlight these issues and to promote mental health resources and support. It’s a reminder of the importance of accessible, affirming mental health care for all.

As a longtime member of the mental health field, I have witnessed many changes and evolutions related to the LGBTQ+ community. It is essential that we continue to expand our knowledge base and awareness of the multitude of issues the LGBTQ+ community faces and speed at which situations and laws and related matters change and can be addressed. 

A Time for All to Celebrate

While Pride Month is rooted in the LGBTQ+ community, its message of acceptance and love is universal. It’s a celebration of the beautiful diversity of human experience. Whether you identify as LGBTQ+ or as an ally or if you haven’t thought much about the LGBTQ+ and if you have read up to this part (thank you), please consider how Pride Month invites you to stand in solidarity, to celebrate love in all its forms, and to champion the rights of all individuals to live authentically and openly.

Looking Forward

As we celebrate Pride Month, let’s carry its message with us throughout the year. Let’s continue to advocate for equality, to educate ourselves and others, and to support the mental health and well-being of the LGBTQ+ community. Pride is not just a month-long celebration; it’s a lifelong commitment to creating a world where everyone can be proud of who they are. 

In closing, I want to express my deep admiration for the courage and resilience of the LGBTQ+ community. Your strength and authenticity inspire me every day. Happy Pride Month to all. May it be a time of joy, reflection, and progress for everyone.

Important Resources

Below please find links to pages detailing resources, hotlines and supportive organizations for all involved in the LGBTQ+ community. 

https://glaad.org/resourcelist/

https://pflag.org/resource/support-hotlines/

 

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