LGBTQ+ Mental Health

hands with lgbtq flag

Canada is culturally diverse and dynamic by design

There are numerous communities consisting of various personalities, cultures and lifestyles. For those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirit or queer (LGBTQ+), the range of experiences with mental health and well-being are as diverse as those found within the general Canadian population. But the effects of intolerance and discrimination can create higher risks for mental health disorders among members of these communities.

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There are typically three areas that highly influence positive mental health and well-being:

  • social inclusion
  • freedom from discrimination and violence
  • access to economic resources

Those who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community are often targets of harassment, sexual and physical assault, discrimination in housing and employment, and may also experience loss of family or social support. As a result, members of LGBTQ+ communities face higher rates of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive and phobic disorders, suicidality, self-harm and substance use.

LGBTQ+ Mental Health Facts1:

  • Members of LGBTQ+ communities face higher rates of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive and phobic disorders, suicidality, self-harm and substance use
  • Members of LGBTQ are twice as likely to experience childhood maltreatment, interpersonal; violence, and personal loss
  • The risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within the LGBTQ+ community is double that of those that identify as heterosexual
  • Sexual minority individuals are two and a half times more likely to attempt suicide and are one and a half times more likely to have depression and anxiety than heterosexual peers
  • LGBTQ+ youth face approximately 14 times the risk of suicide and substance abuse as heterosexual peers
  • Some research suggests that abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other substances may be two to four times higher among those that identify as LGBTQ+

Homewood Health took these facts to heart and implemented a pilot project in 2017 to integrate an LGBTQ+ focus to our treatment programs. Janice‎ Lace, Director of Operations at the Homewood Health Centre in Guelph, Ontario coordinated the launch of the initiative.

Staff in the psychiatry services department created a group and held eight sessions, every other week, to offer treatment support for LGBTQ+ individuals at the Health Centre. At the end of the eight sessions they surveyed participants about the experience. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive:

  • 86% of participants said the pilot project was ‘very important’ to their overall recovery
  • 13% said it was ‘important’
“It makes me feel safe and comfortable and more apt to seek care,” one member explained. “It feels like a weight has been lifted off my chest and I can breathe easy again since arriving at the group.”

Based on the learnings from the pilot, Homewood has allocated new resources for a second group and will provide ongoing education and training to staff.

Pursuing Mental Health

Some signs that you might benefit from seeking help are that you feel tired or lack energy, feel tearful, shut yourself away from people, no longer want to do the things you usually enjoy, use alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings, harm yourself or have thoughts of taking your own life.

Nia Herlihy is Talent Management Director at Pink Triangle Press, a Canadian organization that specializes in LGBTQ+ publishing, online interactive media and television. Pink Triangle is also a Homewood Health customer. She says there are still stressors that are unique to people who identify as LGBTQ+ that can add up over time. “I do see more depression and more drug and alcohol use [in LGBTQ+ communities]. I think homophobia and transphobia play a role, but it’s not the only part. Previous family rejection may also play a part. Not seeing yourself reflected in the culture around you; children’s books.”

Lessons from LGBTQ+ Treatment Providers

Alannah James is the Volunteer Coordinator at QMUNITY, British Columbia’s Queer, Trans and Two-Spirit Resource Centre. QMUNITY has been offering counselling services exclusively for people who identify as members of LGBTQ+ communities since 1983. James said they’ve found adding opportunities for clients to connect and socialize has been an excellent wrap-around service to the counselling practice.

“Comprehensive and holistic mental health takes many forms beyond counselling,” James explained. “We do this in a number of ways: free counselling, information and referrals to external agencies and services, access to gender-affirming attire, youth one-on-one and group support, peer-facilitated social and support groups, special events, volunteer and practicum opportunities, and lots more.”

The resource centre offers dances for people under 25, coffee meetings for older adults and seniors, and referrals for queer-friendly recreational sports teams, housing supports, bookstores, and free legal services.

Both Herlihy and James agree with Homewood Health Centre director Janice Lace that there are clear benefits to tailoring mental health treatment programs to support individuals from LGBTQ+ communities.

Homewood Health Centre is one of the largest mental health and addiction facilities in Canada offering programs that are specialized, unique, and national in scope, including the Addiction Medicine Service, PTSD and Integrated Mood and Anxiety Programs. Learn more.


1. Policy Papers on Equity: