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Nora Fitzgerald Discusses the Dynamic of Mental Health Within the LGBTQ+ Community

By Nora Fitzgerald

The experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals often negatively impact their mental health and, in some cases, physical safety. We live in a heteronormative society where queer culture is not valued, celebrated, or even understood by those who are not part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Surely, there are some places in the country where it is more accepted than others; however, many LGBTQ+ individuals lack the necessary support to be their most authentic selves.

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), 40% of LGBTQ+ adults have experienced rejection from a family member or a close friend after coming out. This, along with other risk factors that LGBTQ+ youth experience, puts the community at a 120% higher risk of experiencing homelessness.

NAMI also reports that 40% of transgender adults have attempted suicide in their lifetime, and LGBTQ+ adults are more than twice as likely to have a mental health condition compared to heterosexual adults.

These numbers may be shocking to some, but this only scratches the surface of what individuals in the LGBTQ+ community face on a day-to-day basis. When you consider the intersections of race, religion, socioeconomic status, or ability and sexuality, you’ll find that individuals with multiple marginalized identity markers generally experience higher risk of mental or physical harm when coming out.

Everyone’s coming out journey is unique, and different aspects of one’s identity shape the way they perceive the world and the world perceives them. Some people have great experiences sharing their truth, while others face more traumatic realities. It’s important to remember that coming out is a lifelong process that can be both liberating and intimidating.

In some cases, it may not be a safe decision for an individual to come out. This may be due to their living circumstances, fear of harassment or discrimination, or they may just not know how they identify yet. It is crucial to let someone come out on their own terms in order to not jeopardize their safety or wellbeing.

An individual can take an entire lifetime to figure out who they are or what they want in life, and sexuality and gender identity are no different. One person may know exactly how they identify early in life, while others may struggle to find security in their identity until later into adulthood. Either way, their identity is valid, and everyone has their own timeline in finding themselves.

One way to make LGBTQ+ youth feel more empowered to come out and be their true selves is to expand our collective understanding of LGBTQ+ issues. Educating people on LGBTQ+ issues can provide clarity to those who may not know much about the community and it can make conversations about identity easier. Here at Springfield College, student leaders are working to incorporate more LGBTQ+ education on campus.

Student athletes Lily Gould and Grace Dzindolet organized a group called “Athlete Ally” this year. It aims to address the needs of LGBTQ+ individuals within the world of sport.

“We really just want to create a space for LGBTQ+ issues in sport to be heard,” Dzindolet said.
“Our goal with Athlete Ally is to make Springfield Athletics more inclusive. We want to support LGBTQ+ athletes at our school, and give everyone the tools they need to be a better ally and teammate to LGBTQ+ athletes.”

Athlete Ally is partnering with SGA, GSA, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Minds in Motion for an event next week related to mental health awareness. Archie Messersmith-Bunting, founder of Archie Cares, LLC, will be coming to campus for a conversation around destigmatizing mental health. This event will take place on Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. in Fuller Arts Center.

Students are always encouraged to make an appointment with the counseling center if they are struggling with their mental health. The counseling center can be reached at (413) 748-3345, and in the event of an emergency, public safety can be reached at (413) 748-5555.

Photo Courtesy Nora Fitzgerald

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