Members of the LGBTQ+ community are at a significantly higher risk for developing mental health issues than others; transgender youth are more than four times as likely as their non-transgender peers to experience depression, and LGBQ adolescents are more than twice as likely to experience suicidal thoughts than their heterosexual peers. LGBQ youth are also four times more likely to commit suicide.
College students represent another subset of the population that is particularly vulnerable to mental health issues. Therefore, an LGBTQ+ university student has a very high risk of mental illness.
On Tuesday evening, Active Minds, an organization that works to raise awareness of mental health issues on campus, partnered with the Pride Center to host a panel discussion on the role that mental health plays in the lives of LGBTQ+ students at UT, entitled Taking Mental Health Out of the Closet. Representatives from both of the event’s organizers were present with information about mental health resources, and the five panelists who spoke at the event were all members of UT’s LGBTQ+ community.
The moderator began the discussion by asking the panelists to share the role that their identity plays in their lives. Some students shared that their identity affects every aspect of their life, while others stated that they wish their identity played a larger role in their day-to-day interactions.
Panelist Zachary Day explained that as a gay man, he is reminded daily of his identity.
“To me, my identity affects every single part of my life because as a gay man, you walk around and you’re different, and everyone knows you’re different,” Day said.
Day explained that children who experience bullying and discrimination because of a lack of tolerance towards their LGBTQ+ identity are likely to develop a mental health disorder. The effects of such attacks on one’s self can be debilitating to the mental health of adolescents.
However, Day also emphasized that LGBTQ+ students are still allowed to experience mental health struggles over more than just their sexuality, and their personal problems that are not related to their sexuality should be treated as just as valid as those that are. He emphasized that when a member of the LGBTQ+ community seeks mental health treatment, counselors and therapists should not automatically assume that the person is struggling because of their sexual identity.
“Separating the struggles of a person’s life versus identity are two different things,” Day said.
The panelists also discussed safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students and the dialogue around mental health that they had discovered at UT. Student Dom Green expressed how grateful they were for the student organization that organizes Sex Week, Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee.
“As soon as I came in (to SEAT), they welcomed me with open arms,” Green said.
Although Green strives to be an advocate for LGBTQ+ students on campus, they explained that there is only so much that students can accomplish without a supportive administration. LGBTQ+ students should not bear the weight of advocating for their community on their own, Green explained.
In recent years, UT administration has made decisions that negatively impacted the campus LGBTQ+ community. Last semester, the state Comptroller’s Report expressed its great disdain for Sex Week, an event that highlights many aspects of the LGBTQ+ community. Interim System President Randy Boyd and former Interim Chancellor Wayne Davis stated that they were in agreement with the Comptroller’s Report and its opinion of Sex Week.
Green believes that the UT administration has failed to stand up for and advocate for LGBTQ+ students and that the university does not care about mental health to the degree that administration claims it does.
Green offered a word of advice on the situation to the UT administration: “Stop making me do your job.”
The event sparked conversation about mental health in the LGBTQ+ community, and students called on the university to promote inclusion and improve mental health resources.
Any student struggling with mental health is advised to seek help with the UT Counseling Center or call 974-HELP. If you have any fear that you are in danger of harming yourself or others, or you are in fear that someone you know is in danger of harming themselves or others, call 911 or the UT emergency police at 865-974-3111.