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Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people may struggle to feel comfortable with their identity making body-focused disorders and depression more likely.
Body Image, Body-Centered Behaviors and LGBT Identity
There are many reasons a member of the LGBT community may suffer with body image issues and depression. People in this population often feel extra stress associated with coming out to friends or family members or from harassment at work or school.
While a body image problem such as an eating disorder may exist independently from depression, there are many reasons a LGBT person may have both or several conditions at once. Members of the gay community are more likely to suffer from mental health issues for the following reasons according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA):
- Fear of rejection (friends, family and acquaintances)
- Violent experiences, such as attacks, that may cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Negative beliefs about self due to sexual orientation
- Experiences of bullying
- Lack of family support due to sexual orientation
While there is a limited amount of research on body image issues in the gay community, it appears from current studies that LGBT people are disproportionately affected by body image and eating disorders according to NEDA.
Body image problems may be more common for gay men than straight men, and gay, lesbian and bisexual teens are at a higher risk for binge eating and purging than straight teens. Gay men who read muscle and fitness magazines and compare themselves to images of pornography also are more likely to be dissatisfied with their body according to an article in the Journal of Homosexuality.
Depression and Members of the LGBT Community
Body image is not the only struggle for many LGBT people. Many also suffer with co-occurring depression. Even as awareness about mental health disorders grows, depression is still a stigmatized disease. For an LGBT person with depression, there is a danger of being doubly stigmatized according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
When an LGBT person lacks family support, depression can become an even more serious disease. In fact poor family support is a problem for the entire LGBT community leading to a higher incidence of many health problems including depression, illegal drug use, increased risk of HIV infection and suicide attempts.
Hair Pulling Disorders and LGBT Identity
Hair pulling disorder, or trichotillomania, is part of a larger group of disorders known as Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs) according to the Trichotillomania Learning Center. A person who has a hair pulling disorder will pull out hair from various parts of the body including the scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows, pubic area, underarms, beard, chest and legs. The hair pulling causes noticeable bald patches. Researchers believe the disorder has genetic causes and classify it somewhere between an obsessive-compulsive disorder and a tic. Many people feel a sudden, incontrollable urge to pull hair.
While the cause behind hair pulling is not known, people who suffer from trichotillomania have a neurologically based predisposition to self-soothe by pulling their own hair. Around two to four percent of Americans have trichotillomania. A child as young as one-year-old may self-soothe with hair pulling, but the average age of onset is 11 years old. People who are happy suffer with the disorder, but it also may be intensified by periods of stress.
Members of the gay community who are predisposed to trichotillomania may find the unique stresses associated with being gay intensify hair pulling.
Treating Depression and Body Image Issues
One of the key ways an LGBT person can alleviate depression and body image symptoms is to experience self-acceptance. It may be difficult for a person to be at peace with his or her sexual identity, but specially trained therapists can guide a person on this goal. A treatment center that is sensitive to unique LGBT needs such as stigma, family support, violence and internalized homophobia can effectively address many body image problems and depression.
Need Help Finding LGBT-Sensitive Treatment for Depression and Body Image Problems?
There are many LGBT people who lead happy and healthy lives. If you are struggling with insecurity about your sexual orientation or have a loved one who needs help, our admissions coordinators can offer answers.
We provide many LGBT-friendly treatment programs for people who struggle with co-occurring conditions such as depression and eating disorders. The first steps toward recovery are made by reaching out and finding the most supportive people to guide the way. Call our toll free number 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Do not wait another moment. Call today.