Supporting the mental health of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community

June 1, 2023

While acceptance has grown over the past few decades, members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and additional identities) community continue to deal with increased mental health challenges compared to those not in the community.

In a survey by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, around 25 per cent of 2SLGBTQIA+ respondents reported excellent or very good mental health between October 2020 and September 2021. However, that number rose dramatically to 45 per cent for non-2SLGBTQIA+ respondents.

And over that same period, the rate of moderate-to-severe anxiety was twice as high in members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.

How can we support our 2SLGBTQIA+ loved ones – not just during Pride month, but all year long?

Challenges and stigma

Members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community face challenges just like everybody else – including depression, anxiety and relationship difficulties, says Marriage and Family Therapist Daniel Chiu, who works with Manitoba Blue Cross’s Employee Assistance Program.  

But on top of these, they face additional difficulties due to stigma.

“What challenges stand out even more are the feelings of isolation, institutional and societal discrimination and prejudice, the struggles with family acceptance, and so much more,” he adds. “What is important to remind ourselves is that members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community are humans first, so some of the challenges are not that unique. However, what challenges are unique for the community members are how general society perceives and treats them, and how there is still a lot of inaction and complacency that leads to the members feeling excluded, threatened, and fearful for their lives.”  

He adds that it’s also important to be mindful of intersectionality in the community – that is, members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community who are also members of other marginalized groups, including BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour), those of different socio-economic backgrounds, and those who have disabilities.

“Intersectionality adds more layers to the complexity of challenges that members face continually,” Chiu says.

Why is supporting the community so important?

Throughout history – and into the present – the 2SLGBTQIA+ community has faced adversity and been underserved in many facets of life, Chiu says.

In Canada, same-sex marriage wasn’t legalized federally until 2005 – and Canada was only the fourth country in the world to do so. Manitoba legalized same-sex marriage in 2004, the fifth jurisdiction in the country after Ontario, B.C., Quebec and Yukon.

Sexual orientation as a protected class was not added to the Canadian Human Rights Act until 1996, and homosexuality was illegal until 1969.

Conversion therapy – therapy designed to make a person straight or non-trans – was legal until 2022.

Even today, there are ongoing efforts in Manitoba to remove 2SLGBTQIA+-related content from school and public libraries.  

And in the United States, over 500 anti-trans laws have been introduced this year alone – more than any previous year.

“We live in a free society where everybody deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,” Chiu says. “While society seems to be more accepting of the community in the present, remember that it has not always been a smooth road historically. Although it seems that there is more representation of members of the community now in places such as media, political leaders, or school inclusions, there still lies many underlying challenges and issues that the members continue to face.”

Offering support

To support 2SLGBTQIA+ loved ones, it’s important to educate ourselves and reflect on our areas of ignorance and misunderstandings, Chiu says.

“Although affirming words are usually supportive and comforting, action actually speaks louder than words,” he says. “In fact, being proactive, such as speaking out against injustice and standing up against bigotry, is required to make the world welcoming and safe for everyone, regardless of how people embrace their own identities.”  

None of us is perfect – but owning up to our mistakes can help us learn and grow as we aim to expand our views.

“For example, we might misgender a person by mistake, so apologizing and correcting ourselves can be quite meaningful as it shows we are holding ourselves accountable, and we are proactively repairing any potential harm,” Chiu says.

Listening to 2SLGBTQIA+ loved ones about their needs is also crucial.

“We all have our own sense of safety, so ask and listen to what our loved ones need for everyone to feel safe,” he says.

Counselling support from Manitoba Blue Cross

In our Employee Assistance Program, we have counsellors who are members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, as well as allies who affirm and care passionately about the work they do with the community.  

If you are struggling, reach out for help. Manitoba Blue Cross members with Employee Assistance Program or Individual Assistance Program coverage can get counselling support. Begin the process here.

Unsure of your coverage? Confirm your eligibility in your mybluecross® account.

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