The holiday season can have an adverse effect on anyone suffering from depression, but especially those within the LGBT community. As a time that is typically spent with family and friends, the holiday season can highlight strained or lost relationships, which is something that many LGBT individuals experience.
Along with an increased occurrence of depression in the LGBT community, these individuals are also at a higher risk for suicide attempts compared to the general population.
The Extent of Depression
Depression affects an estimated 17 million people across the United States, and a higher proportion of the LGBT community suffers from depression comparatively speaking. The effects of depression include lack of interest and enjoyment in daily tasks, significant weight changes, insomnia, lack of energy and, in some cases, persistent thoughts of death and suicide, according to the American Psychological Association.
While an estimated 6.7% of Americans are affected by depression in any given year, these effects are seen in greater proportions within the LGBT community.
LGBT youth are especially at risk for depression, and depression-related suicide. According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 18 and 24, and LGBT youth are even more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth.
The University of Auckland found that more than half of transgender high school students experienced depression and had attempted to hurt themselves. Another study done by the American Association of Suicidology found that approximately half of transgender youth have seriously contemplated suicide and almost a quarter had attempted it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011 found that LGBT youth are four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts of a comparable age.
This increase in depression and suicide attempts among LGBT young people may be due to a feeling of isolation or strained personal relationships during a period of time that is crucial to personal growth and self-discovery.
Depression Around the Holidays
The holiday season is a time associated with togetherness, and spending time with family and friends. Many LGBT members have suffered some family loss, whether it be a loss of relationships, feelings of rejection or a lack of acceptance. The holidays serve as a reminder of these changed or strained relationships, and highlighting these losses can worsen the effects of depression and make an individual feel even more isolated.
The stress may be even worse if LGBT people are obligated to spend time around unsupportive family members, which can also cause depression to worsen.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that suicide rates were highest, at 45%, in the LGBT community for adults between the ages of 18 and 24. Their research also found this vulnerability is largely due to mental health problems, discrimination, and rejection by family and friends. These factors are emphasized even more around holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, which have strong associations with togetherness and family bonds. Suicide prevention workers have noted an increase in calls to suicide hotlines around the holiday season.
Combating Holiday Depression
Studies have shown that Gay-Straight Alliances help to significantly decrease suicide rates in schools that had both GSA’s and anti-homophobic policies. The existence of these groups helped to lower not only suicide rates in the LGBT youth segment but also in the heterosexual student population.
To help combat seasonal depression, it is recommended that LGBT people make an effort to spend time around people and organizations that make them feel supported, loved and accepted. Participating in LGBT holiday events can help to combat the potential increase in depression and suicide by providing a festive and caring environment in which to celebrate the season and healthy relationships.
LGBT organizations and events have been shown to increase feelings of happiness and belonging this time of year, as well. For those who are experiencing extreme holiday depression and are in need of LGBT suicide help in Harrisburg, PA, there are programs available that offer support and treatment. Alder Health Services offers a safe place for all LGBT community members to seek health care in South Central Pennsylvania, and is the only LGBT health care provider within 120 miles of Harrisburg, PA.