For many years, the LGBTIQ+ population has had to overcome the obstacles posed by a society that’s insensitive to their realities. Indeed, some authors suggest that this population faces challenges that aren’t ever experienced by other sectors of society. Ilan H. Meyer has proposed a model to study this problem. He calls it minority stress.
The minority stress model states that, as a group, due to their status, minorities are vulnerable to increased stress. Meyer’s theory makes it possible to more accurately assess the stressors they experience and their effects. Therefore, it’s a useful resource in psychology, since it allows us to better understand the needs of this population.
Stress is an emotion that appears in situations that are perceived as a threat or challenge. To a certain extent, it’s an adaptive process because it gives us an extra ‘push’ to meet the demands of the situation but it becomes a problem when we experience it for long periods of time.
All people can be prone to chronic stress for different reasons. However, the LGBTIQ+ population suffers a greater risk of suffering from stress due to situations that are associated with their condition of being. For example, for transgender people, in many countries, having their gender identity legally recognized is a problem. At the same time, this creates difficulties for them in accessing work, health, education, etc.
Therefore, we can say that LGBTIQ+ people face challenges inherent to their gender identity or sexual orientation. These stressful situations are those that Ilan H. Meyer included in his model of minority stress.
How is minority stress observed?
Until now, it hasn’t been possible to exactly define the stressors experienced by the LGBTIQ+ population. Meyer has put together a series that he found to be prevalent.
1. Previous experiences of discrimination
As mentioned earlier, the social environment of LGBTIQ+ people tends to be insensitive to their experiences and needs. Therefore, it’s common for them to suffer discrimination in their family environment and at school or work. These types of experiences cause suffering and feelings such as guilt or shame that damage their mental health.
Along the same lines, Barrientos et al. (2019) conducted a study on the effects of sexual prejudice on Chilean transgender people. The researchers concluded that they suffer anxious and depressive symptoms, substance use, self-harm, and suicidal ideation and attempts.
2. Expectations of rejection
Another important factor in the minority stress model is the expectations of rejection that the LGBTIQ+ population experience.
Due to previous experiences of discrimination, they tend to develop rejection anxiety. In fact, they perceive, in their environment, a constant threat of discrimination and see the future in a bleak way.
3. Concealment of sexual orientation or gender identity
LGBTIQ+ people tend to hide their gender identity or sexual orientation. This is hardly surprising considering that they’re often rejected for the way they are. In addition, they live with the expectation that their environment will discriminate against them in some way.
As a result, to avoid the stress and anguish generated by the experience of rejection, they hide who they are. This behavior is reinforced because, by hiding, they obtain certain social benefits. Although, at the same time, it generates suffering because they must repress their real desires, dreams, and goals.
4. Internalized hate
Minority stress is also expressed through contempt for themselves. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people tend to introject society’s rejection within themselves. Consequently, they feel hatred for their own desires and personality traits. This can lead them to make decisions such as undergoing ‘conversion therapy’ in order to suppress who they are.
It should be noted that there’s no scientific evidence that it’s possible to change or ‘cure’ sexual orientation or gender identity. In fact, these kinds of ‘treatments’ can make existing mental health problems even worse. In addition, many conversion centers are run by religious organizations that aren’t licensed to practice psychotherapy.
LGBTIQ+ people experience particular difficulties when it comes to facing reality. On the one hand, if they openly accept who they are, they can become victims of discrimination and violence. On the other, by hiding, they continue to be victims of social prejudice. As a matter of fact, they’re victimized whether they face the situation or not.
Because of this, the LGBTIQ+ population faces an increase in uncertainty about the future. Perhaps they’re wondering if things will ever change? Should they accept who they are and risk suffering? Or, do they stay hidden and repress what they feel?
The effects of minority stress
We already know that stress is an emotion that can affect long-term mental and physical health. For this reason, it’s logical to assume that, due to minority stress, the LGBTIQ+ population suffers more health problems.
Mongelli et al. (2019) conducted a systematic review on minority stress and mental health in this population. They concluded that the evidence indicates that these groups have a higher rate of psychological alterations.
Other research conducted by Flentje et al. (2019) studied the relationship of minority stress with biological outcomes. They found evidence suggesting a possible link between these variables. However, the authors point out that more research is needed in this regard.
In conclusion, Meyer’s model offers us a window to better understand the difficulties of the LGBTIQ+ population. It’s a useful resource for mental health professionals dealing with these types of cases. Furthermore, the model of minority stress serves to further educate the population regarding the experiences of minorities.
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