Individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or questioning (LGBTQ+), may encounter challenges relating to social stigma and discrimination that those who identify as heterosexual and/or cisgender may not experience. This can put LGBTQ+ youth and adults at risk of experiencing mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety and suicidality. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), high school students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are almost 5 times as likely to attempt suicide compared to their heterosexual peers. This can also put people who identify as LGBTQ+ at a greater risk for substance use disorder (SUD) in their lifetime.
Young people who identify as LGBTQ+ can be at risk for substance use due to chronically high levels of stress.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs is more common among those who identify as LGBTQ+ compared to those who identify as heterosexual and/or cisgender because of the chronically high levels of stress that they experience due to:
Bullying and harassment: A Human Rights Campaign Foundation Youth Survey showed that LGBTQ+ youth were twice as likely as those who did not identify as LGBTQ+ to have been excluded, verbally harassed, or physically assaulted. Some studies have shown that there is a relationship between bullying and/or harassment and the increased rates of drug and alcohol use among LGBTQ+ youth. According to the 2016 MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey, 29% of MetroWest LGBTQ+ high school students reported being bullied on school property compared to 15% of heterosexual cisgender high school students. For more statistics relating to health behaviors and experiences of LGBTQ+ youth, take a look at the highlights from the 2016 MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey.
Family conflict and rejection: A Human Rights Campaign Foundation Youth Survey revealed that just 49% of LGBTQ teens felt as though they could turn to an adult in their family for help, compared to nearly 80% of non-LGBTQ teens. LGBTQ+ youth who have a parent or caregiver that is affirming of their identity are less likely to use substances.
Minority Stress: Minority stress is when a person experiences hardship because of a socially stigmatized identity, such as identifying as LGBTQ+.
Childhood Abuse: There is some evidence that LGBTQ children are more of a target for physical and sexual abuse than children who are heterosexual. Abuse is a risk factor for substance use disorders.
Gender stereotypes: There is some evidence that gender non-conformity is a risk factor for substance abuse in adolescents, especially in LGBTQ+ girls. This could be linked to the fact that they may experience more stigma or harassment.
Peer Influence: LGBTQ+ youth are a great source of support for other LGBTQ+ youth. However, just like heterosexual youth, if youth hang out with other youth that are using substances, they are at a greater risk to do so themselves.
Many LGBTQ+ individuals might avoid seeking services or treatment because they are afraid of potential discrimination or because some treatment facilities are not able to meet the unique needs of the LGBTQ+ community. Fortunately for Natick residents, there are local, state and national organizations that offer support services to the LGBTQ+ community.
Fortunately for Natick residents, there are local, state and national organizations that offer support services to the LGBTQ+ community.
Lauri Ryding of the Natick Community Services Department hosts events that support and build community among LGBTQ+ adults and allies in Natick. These events include a bimonthly ‘Coffee and Conversation’ and ‘Thursdays with Lauri’ dinners. Contact Lauri for questions or information at 508-647-6540 or contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OUT MetroWest builds communities where LGBTQ+ youth thrive. OUT MetroWest hosts three programs serving LGBTQ+ youth in the MetroWest area:
Nexus is the state’s first program for LGBTQ+ and allied middle school youth.
Umbrella is a trans-facilitated program for transgender and gender non-conforming high school youth.
WAGLY is a youth-led, adult-supported program for all LGBTQ+ and allied high school youth.
Program RISE/JRI Health is a multi-service agency that provides free, confidential services including: substance use treatment navigation; STI preventative, counseling and testing services; and case management and group support services for individuals affected and living with HIV/AIDS. All services are free of charge, and no appointment is necessary. Located at 1 Grant Street, Suite 100 in Framingham. Office hours are Monday-Friday 9:00 AM-5:00 PM. Call 508-935-2960 for more information.
BayPath Elder Services provides a number of services and programs to older adults, caregivers and people with disabilities to achieve their independence. BayPath assists in providing resources, information and support to LGBTQ+ older adults and their allies in MetroWest, including Natick.
BAGLY is the Boston Alliance of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and QueerYouth. It is a youth-led, adult-supported social support organization committed to social justice, and creating, sustaining and advocating for programs, policies and services for the LGBTQ+ youth community.
Fenway Health’s mission is to enhance the wellbeing of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and all people in their neighborhoods and beyond through access to the highest quality health care, education, research and advocacy.
The LGBT Aging Project is dedicated to making sure that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender elders have equal access to the life-prolonging benefits, protections, services and institutions that their heterosexual neighbors take for granted.
The Family Acceptance Project is a community research, intervention and education initiative that studies that impact of family acceptance and rejection on the health, mental health and well-being of LGBTQ+ youth.
PFLAG supports family members, friends and allies of LGBTQ+ people through both online groups and local chapters.
The Trevor Project is the leading national organization that focuses on crisis and suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth.
Additionally, below is a list of many national LGBTQ+ support hotlines:
Alcohol and Drug Abuse Hotline: 1-800-821-4357
CDC National AIDS Hotline: 1-800-342-2437 (1-800-344-7432 for Spanish)
Desi LGBTQ+ Helpline for South Asians: 1-908-367-3374