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Five LGBTQ+ mental health self-care tips from the experts

From finding an LGBTQ+-inclusive therapist to building a community around you, here are five LGBTQ+ mental health self-care tips the experts swear by.

lgbt mental health

Written by Samuel Sims

Self-care for mental health can look really different for different people. You might feel totally restored by a night in with a great book and a hot bath. Alternatively, being surrounded by the people you love in a cafe or pub may be just what you need. Some people take care of their plants. Others turn their music up and dance around their bedroom. Whatever your preference, there’s no one right way to feel good. It’s just important that you know the mental health self-care tips that work for you and the support that’s available. 

While everyone can benefit from taking some time out to focus on their mental health, you may have experiences as someone in the LGBTQ+ community that a cisgender straight person simply can’t understand or will never face firsthand. Growing up and existing in a world where you can face rejection, hatred, and even violence for simply trying to be yourself can have a huge impact on your well-being. Taking in news on a constant basis that LGBTQ+ people around the world are at an increased risk of hate crimes or having their rights revoked takes a massive toll on your mental health even if you don’t immediately recognize it. 

The LGBT in Britain: Health Report published by UK LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall found that 52% of those they spoke to have experienced depression in the last year. Trans people were found to be particularly at risk of poor mental health (46% reportedly considered taking their own lives). Similarly, in a survey compiled by the Center of American Progress, 95% of Black LGBTQ+ people reported that discrimination had negatively affected their psychological well-being to some degree. For young LGBTQ+ people of color, suicide rates are also far higher than young white LGBTQ+ people, according to a 2021 survey by The Trevor Project

The Mental Health Foundation outlined that LGBTQ+ people may experience knocks to their mental health due to experiencing homophobia, biphobia or transphobia, rejection or isolation, and discrimination. 

However, not everyone within the LGBTQ+ community will have faced discrimination or struggle with their mental health in the same way. It can be easy to minimize our feelings with the justification that someone else has it worse. But you deserve to be heard and supported. 

Whether you’ve had a bad day, have been feeling low, or simply want to know where to access support that is both LGBTQ+ inclusive and celebratory, then this expert-led guide will provide you with some mental health self-care tips that you can try at home.

LGBT mental health tips: Speak to members of the community

One of the first things you can do if you’re feeling low is to reach out to a loved one that you trust or a therapist or helpline, says New York-based clinical social worker and queer femme Maryam Moody. It’s particularly helpful if the person you’re talking to is a member of the LGBTQ+ community themselves.

“It can be profoundly validating to have a therapist from the LGBTQ+ community who shares our experiences of visibility, invisibility, shame, resilience, and pride,” Moody says. Sometimes one of the most comforting things about verbalizing your feelings can be the knowledge that the person you’re talking to has some understanding of what you’re going through. It can also feel like additional emotional labor to have to teach a therapist certain terms or LGBTQ+ cultural norms if they are not part of the community themselves.

Aaron Almanza, executive director of the LGBT National Help Center, agrees with Moody’s approach. All of the volunteers who work with the LGBT National Help Center are part of the LGBTQ+ community, which he believes has helped significantly. “For the support we offer, we have found again and again that there is a barrier of trust and understanding that we don’t have to tackle because we’re already on the same footing with our callers,” he says. 

Knowing that you’re in a safe space where you can figure out exactly what you’re feeling without being judged is really important. 

LGBT mental health tips: Find a therapist

Therapy can be expensive and may feel like a privilege afforded to the few, rather than the millions of people who would benefit from it. But Moody and Almanza have some advice for trying to reduce these costs — and also dispelling any fear you may have about reaching out to someone. 

“There still persists the stigma of seeing a therapist or counselor, [but] talking with us can be a first step into the world of getting support,” says Almanza. “People talked to us, and it didn’t hurt or was as scary as they thought it would be.”

When you’re looking for a therapist, you could consider:

Is cost a concern? Moody explains that some trainee therapists will offer their services for a reduced cost. “This can be a great way to get terrific value because the therapist in training is being supervised by a more experienced therapist,” she explains. 

She recommends Therapy Den as a useful resource for starting your search. It has a substantial number of LGBTQ+-inclusive professionals. In the UK, Pink Therapy is an online directory for LGBTQ+ therapists. 

And finding the right therapist for you can take some time. You’ll likely be talking about quite personal things, so if you don’t feel like you connect with the first therapist you meet, if their approach to therapy doesn’t suit you, or you just get an off feeling, then it’s totally fine to shop around. 

There are also other (free) options besides speaking to a medical professional. Almanza is passionate about offering peer support to LGBTQ+ people who are struggling with their mental health through phone and online chat. Though he encourages therapy, he is confident that it isn’t the be-all and end-all. Have a look around for similar services in your area.

LGBT mental health tips: Tap into the online community

The LGBT National Help Center has the largest database of inclusive centers, clinics, and spaces (17,000 to be exact) of its kind in the United States — and it’s constantly being updated. Almanza says that the most common type of support searched for, both locally and nationally, is “groups where a person can meet and connect with the community.” Similarly, Stonewall has a “What’s in My Area?” page where you can search for local support services in the United Kingdom. 

Because of the pandemic, lots of these have gone virtual, meaning you can access them from anywhere. “Community centers are often the first type of organization that is sought out locally as they often have a wide range of types of support groups,” Almanza adds. And while physical safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people to meet, chat, and have fun are crucial, they aren’t the only way that you can connect with other members of the community.

According to a survey conducted by The Trevor Project, online spaces can have a monumental impact on the way you see yourself and your sense of community. Young LGBTQ+ people said that finding a connection with others who are LGBTQ+ and creating a chosen family was one of the greatest ways they find joy and strength. 

One way they did this was by finding communities online and using virtual LGBTQ+ chat groups. Similarly, they said that watching LGBTQ+ people on TikTok and YouTube was a great source of joy, and 96% of people said social media was good for their mental health and well-being

Between the #I’mComingOut hashtag and Pride transformations, the LGBTQ+ community has carved out a space online to share stories, support, and joy. 

While the internet may open up your community, this isn’t everyone’s experience. The Out Online report conducted by GLSEN found that young LGBTQ+ people were almost three times as likely as non-LGBTQ+ young people to say they had been bullied or harassed online (42% compared to 15%). So finding a space where you’re supported and celebrated, not threatened or made to feel uncomfortable, is key.

lgbt mental health

LGBT mental health tips: Find space at home

Alongside speaking to others, finding community online, and taking time to watch social media content that celebrates LGBTQ+ identities, Almanza recommends finding activities that you can do at home, alone, or with others that give you a sense of peace. He highlights that writing and drawing can be really fun and allow you to channel your emotions in a positive way. 

Creative activities like this can also develop your skills and enhance your confidence. Finding a creative outlet can also give you the space to express yourself without feeling like you’re being watched or judged. It’s an activity purely for yourself. 

Finding the activities you enjoy can be a little bit of a journey. Not everyone is going to be able to switch off while knitting or dancing. But if something stands out as being especially helpful, make a note of it, whether that’s “pinning a meme, bookmarking a video, or keeping a folded piece of paper of the activities that you love, so you’re not trying to rack your brain in a moment of crisis,” suggests Almanza.

That way you can turn to and lean on your creative outlets when you’re having a bad day or feeling down without having to think about them too much.

LGBT mental health tips: Use free hotlines

If sitting one-on-one with a therapist in person seems overwhelming, turning to an anonymous space like the LGBT National Help Center helpline may give you the opportunity to speak about how you’re feeling with a sense of freedom. 

“If it gets too big and too scary on a call or online chat with us, a caller always has the power to hang up and the session has ended,” Almanza says. “No one knows who they are; they don’t have to apologize to anyone or feel bad about it.”

Alongside the LGBT National Help Center, The Trevor Project specifically advocates for young members of the LGBTQ+ community. If you’re in the United Kingdom, Switchboard offers peer support through phone and online chat, and MindOut has a vast range of services, including 50+ projects and trans and gender-diverse services. 

LGBT mental health tips: The takeaway

From reaching out to a friend and watching LGBTQ+ content on TikTok, to finding a therapist and calling a helpline that’s designed to support LGBTQ+ people, there are so many ways that you can practice self-care and look after your mental health. 

Everyone’s experiences with mental health are different. However, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, you may make certain considerations when reaching out for help. Speaking to another member of the community or an ally can give you the opportunity to speak honestly with someone who understands, share any difficulties you’re having, and also find spaces of joy.

If you’ve been affected by anything in this piece or are struggling with your mental health and would like to speak to someone, Flo has gathered links to support services that might be helpful. Please visit this page for helplines in different countries.

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