LGBTQ+ Mental Health at work

Fabrice Houdart is moderating an informal roundtable this Thursday (February 24th) at 9 a.m. EST. If you would like to join, email Fabrice.houdart@outleadership.com for the Zoom link.

Mental health is, unfortunately, the trendy post-covid crisis theme.

Yesterday, the UK medical authorities warned again of an unprecedented surge in depression, anxiety, psychosis, and eating disorders since Covid first hit. In the US, three medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, declared in December 2021 a national state of emergency in children’s mental health. Obviously, the same situation exists in many other countries around the world.

However, Covid only added to already alarming numbers. In the United States, before the pandemic, the CDC was already reporting that 4.7% of adults reported depression, and 11.2% reported anxiety. Similarly, 40% of Americans with a 12-month history of severe mental disorders did not receive any treatment.

Compared to their straight peers, LGBTQ+ people disproportionately suffer from poor mental health. Mental health disparities in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations (LGBTQ+), including anxiety, depression, and suicidality, have been significantly documented in the scientific literature in the past ten years.

Mental health for LGBTQ+ people is a topic I wrote about several times last year and particularly matters to me:

Read Happiness, antidepressants, addiction and American politics,” April 2021

Read “ode to the bravery of those who struggle,” May 2021

Read “On IDAHOBIT2021, proudly embrace your snowflake victim self for once,” May 2021

In The Economic Case for LGBT Equality (2020), Prof M.V. Lee Badgett relays my anecdotal observation that between accidental deaths, overdoses, and suicides, my Facebook page has become a memorial to LGBTQ+ friends whose mental health led to premature death. Last year, two prominent leaders in the movement, Monica Boll and Mark Glaze, took their lives, which surprised many, including their family, friends, and employers.

In a previous World Bank study, The Economic Cost of Stigma and the Exclusion of LGBT People: A Case Study of India (2014), on which we collaborated, Professor Badgett had shown that the aggregated impact of lower productivity and loss of life, due to discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and its impact on well-being, ends up being a significant self-inflicted economic wound.

Mental Health at work is also on the map. This week Forbes highlighted the specific responsibility of employers in a context of an overwhelmed mental health medical system in a piece titled “How Employers Can Supplement A Broken Mental Healthcare System.” 

It is naïve and dangerous to assume that LGBTQ+ people automatically shed the burden of growing up in a homophobic and transphobic society when they enter the corporate realm, even if the policies are adequate. Human beings systematically interpret reality through the prism of their lived experience, and for most LGBTQ+ people, this experience is trauma.

Companies can take steps to alleviate the burden of anxiety and depression on LGBTQ+ employees by:

Offering generous mental health benefits;

Paying wages that free employees from economic insecurity;

Holding conversations on self-care;

Providing support to the most at-risk employees (single parents, refugees, People with intersectional identities, etc.);

Fostering connection in a remote-work world;

Developing a healthy workplace culture;

investing in diversity and inclusion programs.

This last point is crucial: To feel included after a lifetime of exclusion, LGBTQ+ people need to be regularly reminded they belong in the corporate world. Therefore, employee resource groups and tone at the top still matter in 2022.

Companies can and should also play a role in contributing to social change on issues that negatively affect the mental health of LGBTQ+ people. This includes supporting bans on conversion therapy, fighting anti-trans bills motivated by animus, or showing up for employees in Hungary, China, or Ghana, where state-sponsored hate speech is on the rise.

I look forward to continuing this conversation Thursday as we hold an informal roundtable on LGBTQ+ mental health at work. 

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