Sexual Orientation and Identity: Understanding the Impact on Mental Health

Sexual Orientation

and Health

Mental health care professionals recognize that sexual orientation and gender identity can have a significant influence on individual’s mental and physical health. As a result, understanding and supporting individuals with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities is a growing focus of the healthcare industry.

What is Sexual Orientation and Identity?

Sexual orientation is a person’s emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to others. This concept also encompasses an individual’s sense of personal and social identity based on these attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share these attractions and attitudes.

Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of being male, female, neither, or both. Everyone has a gender identity and expresses those feelings in a variety of ways. Gender expression influences the way a person chooses to present themselves outwardly—including through personal style, clothing, hairstyle, and voice.

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While sexual orientation and gender identity are unique to each individual, many organizations and states have adopted policies to protect individuals and ensure they can express themselves without fear of stigma or discrimination.

The Impact on Mental Health and Health

Studies have shown that individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ have an increased risk of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide ideation. This vulnerability is often associated with anti-LGBTQ+ laws, policies, and attitudes.

Physical health concerns are also more frequent among those with minority sexual orientations and/or gender identities. Studies have shown that LGBTQ+ individuals tend to be less active, more likely to use tobacco and drugs, and more likely to suffer from heart disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses.

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Due to these underlying conditions, LGBTQ+ individuals tend to have higher rates of disability and poorer health outcomes. They may also face barriers to health care access due to discrimination or a lack of cultural competency among health care providers.

Creating an Inclusive and Safe Environment

Building an inclusive culture in healthcare settings is essential for a positive patient experience. Practices can create a safe, affirming environment by providing bias-free care, respecting pronouns, learning to understand patient language, and offering culturally-competent care.

In addition, healthcare organizations should make efforts to hire, train, and invest in employees of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. It is also important to ensure that LGBTQ+-specific resources and organizations are visible in healthcare settings.

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By creating an inclusive, supportive environment, organizations can help to protect the mental and physical health of LGBTQ+ individuals and ensure they have access to quality care.

Conclusion

It is essential for healthcare professionals to understand the impact that sexual orientation and identity can have on an individual’s mental health and health. Healthcare organizations must be equipped with resources and personnel to provide supportive, compassionate care to LGBTQ+ individuals. By creating a safe and respectful environment, organizations can nurture long-term, positive health outcomes.

Keywords: Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Mental Health, Health, Bias-Free Care, Cultural Competency, Discrimination, LGBTQ+, Inclusive Environment

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