Often the holiday season is seen as a wonderful time of the year, however that doesn’t have the same joyous impact on everyone. People struggling with mental health issues and unaccepting families may find the holiday season quite difficult to manage and at times, triggering. The media portrays the holidays as a magical season where families get together around the tree, sing carols, and share laughter. The pressure to rise to the expectations of the season combined with the stress of family gatherings may bring mental health struggles to the surface.

Additionally, people who spend the holidays alone may experience increased feelings of loneliness and sadness when faced with society’s “demand” to have a joyous time. While many enjoy making holiday plans, 64% of people living with mental health conditions report that the holiday season makes their mental conditions worse.

Spending time with family can turn into a very stressful time and become a source of anxiety, especially for members of the LGBTQ community. Many LGTBQ and non-binary individuals are exposed to homophobic and transphobic sentiments and rejection by family members throughout the year and may be exacerbated during family reunions. Family time may become a reminder of feeling “othered” by your family. Feeling “othered” by family can increase feelings of loneliness and depression. And even if members of the LGBTQ community choose not to return home for the holidays, the expectation of spending the holidays with family in a cheerful setting may loom over them which can increase feelings of anxiety and depression.

loneliness

Even people who have no history of mental health challenges may at times experience anxiety, frustration, sadness, fatigue, and loneliness around holiday time, particularly when associated with the COVID-19 crisis. Whether you are living with a mental health challenge or not, the holiday season can bring an immense amount of stress. Here are some helpful tips on how to manage through the holiday season:

Acknowledge your feelings

Every holiday season has a different emotional charge. Take a step back and analyze your emotions. Listen to your mind and soul and see what they need to feel better. Is the holiday spirit reservoir empty? That is fine. Accept that this year you lack the enthusiasm and capacity to get all caught up in the traditional cheeriness. Happiness can’t be forced! Embrace your emotions and remember that you are not alone in feeling this way.

Bring a Reminder with you

If you are at a family event that may bring added stress, bring something with you. This could be a picture of a loved one, an essential oil to ground you when overwhelmed, a piece of paper with a mantra on it, a funny animal video online, etc. Step away at times and look at these reminders.

woman in therapy

Communicate with your partner ahead of time

If you are bringing someone with you to a holiday event create a plan ahead of time regarding the type of support you may need. It’s important to strategize in order for you to feel support, connection, and security. Remember that you are on the same team as your significant other. If you feel you need to leave an event early or buy one less gift it’s important for your partner to be supportive and attuned to your needs.

Be realistic about shopping and hosting

Ask others to help with the burdens of holiday shopping, decorating the house, and cooking meals. Spend only the money you can afford to avoid the stress of having to think about ways to save money next year to cover the debt. Don’t sacrifice your mental health for the sake of appearances. Admit if you can’t afford to buy presents this year. No one will judge you. And even if they would, your mental health is more important than anyone’s opinion.

woman sitting drinking coffee

Be honest with yourself and connect with a safe community

If possible, try to avoid forced celebrations that you do not feel comfortable attending. Be gentle and kind to yourself, and don’t force unrealistic expectations. Connect with your loved ones, your support group, a therapist, or simply start a conversation with some of your friends. A simple walk with a friend can plant the seed of hope and joy you can experience in the years to come.

Avoid alcohol consumption

Alcohol may make you feel better in the moment, but it is known to be a depressant. Try to not rely on alcohol or drugs to make it through.. Both may only make your mental health condition worse. Numbing your feelings is not the only way to work through the holiday blues and manage your mental health needs. Alcohol can worsen your anxiety and depression.

Yoga

Prioritize self-care

Include healthy habits in your schedule, and do not sacrifice them to make time for others. Your physical health is very important. Exercise, eat healthy meals, and try to relax as much as possible. If you need a break from all the merriness, take a break. Set healthy boundaries and take care of yourself. You can go out for a walk, watch a movie, practice deep breathing, or meditate. Whatever takes you back to yourself and helps you soothe your feelings of anxiety or stress! Remember that winter also comes with less sunlight and this may have an impact on your mood. Try to include outdoor exercise in your routine to get your share of natural light.

Be assertive (if safe to do so)

No one feels comfortable during tension created by conflicts and sometimes we avoid confrontations but sometimes, especially for LGBTQ and non-binary individuals, assertiveness may be necessary. CAUTION- assertiveness is only healthy to utilize if there are no safety concerns, please assess for any safety concerns first. If there are no safety concerns, here some helpful ways to be assertive. Speak up for yourself if you feel hurt by certain comments or you believe to be the victim of microaggressions, such as snubs or insults, regardless of whether they are intentional or unintentional. You do not need to change for anyone, and this should be your mantra. Set gentle yet firm boundaries to stop any potential toxicity. Repeat to yourself whenever necessary that you have the right to be who you are and you deserve everyone’s respect.

 

On November 20, 1998, Rita Hester, an African-American transgender woman, was murdered in her apartment in Boston. She was stabbed 20 times and, while still breathing when the police found her, she died the same day at the hospital. She was 34 years old.

While Rita Hester was not the first trans woman to fall victim to anti-trans violence, her incident compelled activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith to start the Remembering Our Dead web project. The event was dedicated to the murdered trans and gender-diverse people in the United States. It was organized as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita and all the trans people who have lost their lives because of anti-transgender hatred and violence.

In 1999, Smith organized the first Transgender Day of Remembrance; more candlelight vigils and similar events have followed.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Over twenty years have passed since the murder of Rita Hester and the first Transgender Day of Remembrance. Each year, Transgender Day of Remembrance recognizes more lost members of the trans community as murders continue to increase around the world. Twenty years have gone by since Smith started the campaign to end anti-transgender violence and raise awareness regarding the urgent need to educate ourselves about gender-nonconforming people and advocate for trans inclusion. Sadly, not enough has changed.

In 2019, at least 22 transgender lives were taken in the United States. Most of the people murdered were young, Black women. In 2020, 53 transgender and gender-diverse people fell prey to hate and violence in our country, and 386 were murdered worldwide, making 2020 the year with the highest numbers of fatalities since the Human Rights Campaign started tracking these crimes in 2013. These numbers do not account for the transgender people who have taken their own lives because of national indifference, a culture of intolerance, and hatred propagated by the ignorance and prejudice of a portion of the population.

2021 is not over yet, and the transgender community has already seen at least 46 of its members killed for daring to be true to their own selves. Unfortunately, it is possible the number is higher than reported because many stories about transgender people being murdered go unreported, misreported, or unnoticed. Globally, 2021 is likely to surpass 2020 as the most deadly year on record for the trans community, and a majority of those killed in 2021 were transgender women of color, with a high number of deaths happening in Brazil and the United States.

Why does the world need the Transgender Day of Remembrance?

Awareness is key to ending violence against transgender and gender-diverse peoples. The event is not only an opportunity for all communities to join transgender and gender-nonconforming people in remembering and mourning those who lost their lives in the war against prejudice, intolerance, and hatred. It is also a firm reminder that trans people are children, parents, and friends; people who have the same rights just like everyone else to love, live, and simply exist.

Transgender Day of Remembrance raises awareness of hate crimes that are still happening against the trans community and encourages people to educate themselves, advocate for change, and embrace the world as it truly is: diverse and unique. The campaign addresses issues that plague the lives of trans and gender-diverse individuals, encouraging the media to speak openly, boldly, and sincerely about the urgent need to change our mentalities to stop the hate, violence, and indifference that permits these murders to continue.

We all need Transgender Day of Remembrance to gather more allies against the campaign of hatred led by an ignorant minority determined to wipe out the existence of those who dare to be different. We all need Transgender Day of Remembrance to stand in vigil and remember those who have died because they choose to be free and live “differently”. We will continue to need Transgender Day of Remembrance for as long as trans and gender-diverse people are persecuted to preserve an illusory sense of “normality” and sacrificed on the altar of conformity.

transgender symbol

What can you do to become involved in Transgender Day of Remembrance?

You can educate yourself and others about what being a transgender or gender-diverse person means and how you can help stop the stigma associated with their communities. You can advocate for trans-inclusive policies and practices in your workplace, school, town, or city. You can participate or organize a vigil in your neighborhood on November 20th to honor the lives of transgender people who have been murdered. Vigils are often coordinated by local transgender advocates or LGBTQ organizations and usually take place in parks, community centers, or other venues.

You can write stories, articles, or news pieces about victims of transphobic violence and anti-trans hatred and bring them to the attention of local and national media outlets. Telling their stories out loud raises awareness and gives a voice to those who are no longer able to use theirs. Amplify trans voices and take action to stop the abuse and ignorance.

You can offer transgender and gender-diverse people employment, medical care, tutoring, food resources, and any other type of help they need and is in your power to offer. You can be there for them and be an example in your community. You can lead people on the path of inclusion, acceptance, tolerance, and understanding.

Furthermore, you can donate to organizations that help trans people of color, sex workers, migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, as many of them are victims of discrimination, abuse, persecution, and violence. And, of course, you can mobilize your friends and followers to stand with you and share news about the campaign and events in their communities using social media and the hashtag #TDoR2021.

 

Transgender person

Helpful resources to get involved

Disclaimer: The following is a list of possible resources throughout the United States. This list is provided solely as a resource and none of the following organizations are endorsed by Julia Schwab Therapy.

GLAAD has put together a great list of resources for anyone who’d like to get involved. Below are a few examples:

Organizations in Los Angeles that work with the Trans* population (not an exhaustive list)–

LA LGBT Center
Transwellness Center
Trans Latina Coalition
Bienestar
Children’s Hospital
Trans Lounge
Trans Can Work
UCLA Gender Health
Gender Justice Los Angeles
Trans Chorus of Los Angeles

Other Resources throughout the US

10 Trans Advocacy Organizations to Support | Bitch Media
TRANScending Barriers Atlanta Transgender Nonprofit (Atlanta)
Brave Space Alliance (Chicago)
Ingersoll Gender Center (Seattle)
New York Transgender Advocacy Group (nytag.org) (New York)
Boston Area Trans Support (massbats.org) (Boston)
Transgender Education Network of Texas (transtexas.org) (Texas)
TransAL | MobPride (Alabama)
BreakOUT! – Fighting the criminalization of LGBTQ youth in New Orleans, LA / Luchando contra la criminalización de los jóvenes LGBTQ en Nueva Orleans, LA (youthbreakout.org) (Louisiana)
Transgender Resources | The City of Portland, Oregon (portlandoregon.gov) (Portland resources)
Transinclusive Group (Florida)
Charleston Area Trans Support (chasareatsupport.org) (South Carolina)
LGBT Center of Raleigh (North Carolina)
Welcome to OUTMemphis – OUTMemphis (Tennessee)
Resources · Transformations KC • Kansas City’s Transgender Youth Group (Kansas and Missouri)
TEA of Utah (Utah)
The Center – Western Montana’s LGBTQ+ Community Center – Missoula (gaymontana.org) (Montana)
Identity Alaska – advancing Alaska’s LGBT community (Alaska)
Resources – Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia (tapvirginia.org) (Virginia)
StoneWall Society GLBT Resources in West Virginia (West Virginia resources)
TRANSGENDER SUPPORT – OKEQ – Oklahoma’s resource for LGBT persons and their families (Oklahoma)
Welcome to the Transgender Equality Network – Transgender Equality Network (transequalitynetwork.org) (Arkansas)

The concept of gender identity refers to how individuals perceive themselves, how they express themselves, and what terms they use to identify themselves. An individual in our society can identify as male, female, both, neither, or something more nuanced. Some societies around the world have even more options! Gender identities outside the binary may appear as a relatively new concept in Western society, but many societies and indigenous cultures have embraced more than two genders as well as their associated behaviors and expressions for many generations.

Gender identity has found its place in our contemporary vocabulary because of the urgent need for western societies to differentiate between biological sex – the one assigned at birth, and gender identity – the way people see and express themselves. One person might accept that their sex assignment and gender identity are the same (cisgender), or they might accept that these could be different (transgender). And that is natural!

In a society that sees beyond the gender binary system, there would be more terms that better express people’s lived experiences and they wouldn’t have to rely on big and ambiguous categories like gay or straight, transgender or cisgender, in daily life. These limiting terms were designed to enforce multiple binary systems that only allow for two sexes (male and female), two genders (man and woman), two gender expressions (masculine and feminine), and one sexuality (heterosexual, with homosexuality considered as an illness until the 1970s in the U.S.).

gender identity

Recently, western nations have had to accept that they could not erase or exclude people who exist outside of the binary forever, as advancements in technology have aided people in finding peers and communities all around the world. While the controversy over expanding the concept of gender identity seems rather new in the United States, and the need for accepting people who identify with alternative genders is dividing the so-called “progressive” countries of Europe and the U.S.A, other cultures have recognized more than two genders for centuries. However, many people do not know that. When colonization and imperialism started sweeping the globe these more nuanced and expansive categories of gender began to be oppressed and started to disappear.

Historically, western countries that were colonizing the world passed laws to punish individuals who did not fit neatly into the binary system of gender and sexuality used in many Christian/Catholic countries. More recently, as these nations have “progressed” they have had to pass new laws to confirm and protect the existence of genders outside the binary system, proving what many global communities have known all along! At the same time, they are also sending the message that non-binary genders now require protection because there are people refusing to accept them as societal norms and behaving in ways that are harmful to these communities.

The binary gender system is not a universal concept, and many cultures both contemporarily and historically had no issue embracing different genders and even bestowing high positions and elevating the status within their societies of non-binary individuals. Let’s take a quick trip around the world to learn about some of these gender identities!

The Two-Spirit people of North America

 

Native American cultures had found a place for non-binary individuals in their world many hundreds of years ago. The Guardian explains that in Native communities, people who identify as a different gender than the one attributed at birth are included in the category of two-spirit individuals. This is a word used to define intersex, terms that are roughly translated to mean half-male and half-female, female-male, and male-female. A two-spirited person is often considered to be a good omen. They can assume any of the social roles of men and women. In many Native communities two-spirit persons were well respected, considered divine, and often held ceremonial positions, conducting marriage ceremonies, peace talks between tribes, and carrying ancestral knowledge to share. It is normal for male-females to marry women and female-males to marry men.

intersex

We might see these marriages as gay marriages, but Native Americans do not consider these unions as such because of the existence of the two-spirit gender category. Contact with colonizers beginning as far back as the 15th century led to the ostracization of two-spirit people who were discriminated against and oppressed by Christian missionaries, who refused to negotiate or even acknowledge their existence as people and tribal representatives. Many two-spirit people lost their lives due to hostile interactions with colonizers. The term used to define two-spirited persons varies depending on the tribe where the individuals are born. The Zuni tribe, one of the many Native American tribes that have embraced this gender, calls a two-spirited person lhamana. The most famous lhamana was We’wha. We’wha was born in a male body, wore both men’s and women’s clothes, and performed mostly female roles, like cooking and gathering food.

Muxes in Mexico

Most muxes live in Oaxaca, Mexico. Muxes are individuals born in a male body who identify as neither male nor female. They may dress as women and adopt a “feminine” social role working, for example, in embroidery, hairstyling, or cooking, but there are also muxes who decide to pursue office careers or other professions. The Zapotec people recognize muxes as a third gender. Their name is derived from mujer, which means woman in Spanish, but muxes refuse to be identified as women or as gay, transgender, or bisexual.

In the Zapotec language, muxes is a gender-neutral noun, which makes it a bit more complicated when it comes to writing about them in a different language. Muxes are part of a culture with ancient traditions and are respected and celebrated in Oaxaca, during the Vela de las Intrepidas festival, as well as in Los Angeles, a city that has its own Muxe Vela.

Sekrata in Madagascar

The third gender of sekrata is widely accepted by the Sakalava people of Madagascar. A sekrata is a boy raised as a girl from a young age. Parents who notice their child exhibits feminine behavior decide to raise them as a girl and will not intervene in any way to contradict their behavior or personality. Sekratas are considered to be women in a man’s body due to their predominantly feminine characteristics. They identify, talk, and act like a woman, usually having long hair and wearing make-up and jewelry.

Sekrata in Madagascar

The sekrata are considered a gender category of its own – people who have a male body and identify as a female. The Sakalava people of Madagascar understand that having a third-gender child is natural. Sekratas usually avoid male associated roles like joining the army, often performing as dancers in tribal ceremonies. Moreover, they are believed to be sacred and have magical powers and they may be feared by people who follow the tradition associated with their existence.

Hijras in South Asia

Hijras have been considered a third gender in India for thousands of years and are mentioned in sacred Hindu writings. Moreover, the hijras have their own ancient language (Hijras Farsi) and were often associated with sacred powers. Hijras are individuals born males who don’t identify with the sex attributed at birth. Hijras have been legally recognized as the third gender in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

However, following British colonization, penal law changed in 1897, classifying hijras as criminals, and they have been marginalized by society. Many of them have abandoned their communities and have gone underground. Unfortunately, they continue to face discrimination in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh even after the British left. Society considers them outsiders and excludes them from various economic activities, while doctors refuse to treat them and police officers harass them. Despite their marginalization, the hijras continue to speak their own language and demonstrate that gender diversity is and has always been a natural part of society.

Hijras

Fa’afafine and Fa’afatama in Samoa

The island of Samoa has males, females, and it also has two fluid gender roles: fa’afafine and fa’afatama. Samoan culture recognizes assigned at birth males who identify as females as fa’afafine and assigned at birth females who identify as males as fa’afatamas. The term “fa’afafine” is quite representative of the concept it defines since fa’a means “in the manner of” and fafine means “woman”.

The fa’afafines do not approve of being described as transgender or homosexual because these terms are often used to describe categories in binary systems, whereas there are four categories historically in Samoa. Fa’afafines assume the gender and sexual roles associated with women. In addition, they can have relationships with women, as well as other fa’afafines. The Samoan culture is open to many gender identities. Whether you identify as a fa’afafine, fa’afatama, male, female, neither, or fluctuate in your identity and/or expression, the Samoan culture accepts you as you are.

These are just a few examples of the many welcoming and diverse expressions of gender that exist around the world. You might see communities with three, four, five, or more recognized gender identities as you do your own research into the wonderful and nuanced world of gender.

 

Jamez Ahmad

This post was written by Jamez Ahmad.

Jamez (they, them) is a proud member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. They have over fifteen years of experience educating groups on issues relating to gender identity and sexual orientation. As a mixed-race individual, they are passionate about social justice and dismantling systems of oppression. They have an MA from USC and an MSW from Smith College. They are a Taurus who enjoys travel, fiction writing, and film.

LinkedIn – Jamez Ahmad

Our world is incredibly diverse. No two humans are alike, and we do, after all, refer to each of us as individuals because we are unique! And this is a wonderful thing. Limiting this extraordinary world of uniqueness and individuality into only two categories simply isn’t enough anymore. We are becoming more in touch with our inner selves, and, fortunately, we are no longer afraid to speak out and be proud of who we really are. And that is why everyone should become familiar with the use of gender pronouns and integrate them into our “normal” everyday lives. Because being normal means being yourself and accepting others as themselves!

What are pronouns?

Gender pronouns are a linguistic tool that individuals use to communicate and describe others. You might say he loves to cook when talking about your dad or she is a great mechanic when talking about your mother. Pronouns help us accurately describe the people in our lives to others.

Before we get further into our discussion of pronouns, let’s start by focusing on the difference between biological sex and gender. Biological sex is based on physiological characteristics – or physical anatomy- that we often associate with our ideas of gender. Society tends to label people born with vaginas as female, people born with penises as male, or people born with a combination of physical traits as intersex, and this label is assigned at birth based on what genitals the doctor can physically see.

Gender is a spectrum

Gender, on the other hand, is a social construct, or the labels society uses to explain the expectations of the social and cultural roles assigned to biological sex and anatomy within a community. So, unlike biological sex, which is based on genitalia, physical development during puberty, and chromosome composition, gender is the way a person identifies or is expected to identify in relation to socially constructed roles and as a response to their environment. People who identify as the gender assigned to their anatomy are known as cisgender and people who don’t identify with the label society assigns may identify as a member of transgender or gender-nonconforming communities.

Because many Western cultures and the English language have been using these terms interchangeably, it’s no surprise that gender is thought of in a binary way, becoming just as binary as biological sex to our society. However, we know this is not true; gender can be defined on a broad spectrum and is more complex than the binary labels society has been using. A person may identify within this gender spectrum or outside it at any point in their lives. For example, you may have heard the terms “tomboy” or “girly girl”, which society has used to describe different types of femininity. Or you might look at a bodybuilder and think he looks more manly than someone with less muscles. These words and thoughts let us know that there are many ways to express our gender, showing us that there are more than two ways to express ourselves.

LGBTQ progress flag

Gender is no longer a prisoner of the societal realms of “man” and “woman” that are based on genitalia. People are finding the words that work for them, some people may identify as nonbinary, transgender, genderqueer, gender fluid, or even gender-neutral. They can even change their gender identity over time, in a matter of hours, or over months or years. Gender identity is a combination of how we feel, how we see ourselves, and how we express ourselves to the outside world.

In other words, people can identify more closely with society’s expectations of being male or female, or even in between the two, or they may identify more with conventionally masculine expressions, feminine expressions, both, or in the middle, and simply switch between the two. Some people won’t express themselves in any way society can label, and that is a natural and healthy expression of identity too.

Persons who identify outside of society’s gender binary roles may prefer to use third-person pronouns or gender-neutral pronouns like they/them/their as singular, ze instead of she/he, and hir in place of his/him/her, and the list can go on with ve/ver, xe/xer, xie/xem, ze/zir and many more. These newer pronouns, like xe, ve, and ze are called neopronouns because they are new ways to help people be more accurately described. So, you may have a person in your life who wants you to use gender-neutral pronouns when you describe them or xem to others.

 

humans restroom sign

Why do pronouns matter?

Millennials and Gen Z are more open towards all forms of gender expression and they need society’s support to help develop and grow into healthy and happy human beings. Pronouns matter because they help people position themselves in their communities to be seen as they truly are. Using the correct pronoun encourages inclusion and makes people feel seen, respected, and valued. Our gender identities are important parts that help us build our self-confidence and self-worth, so it’s only natural for us all to grow as individuals when everyone else respects the way we see ourselves.

The Center for Suicide Prevention reports that nonbinary and transgender people are 2x as likely to think about suicide than the general population. And that’s, in part, because of being misgendered and/or misnamed, having a significant and serious impact on one’s mental health. It is very important for workplaces, educational institutions, and organizations to include and support the use of self-identified pronouns and first names. In California, a person’s pronouns are protected in the workplace under Title IX and employees have the right to expect appropriate pronouns will be used by colleagues.

Furthermore, it is healthier for people to never make assumptions about how people identify. The appearance or behavior of a person is not enough to make the correct assumption about a person’s gender in every situation. It is best to always ask people about their pronouns and in some cases, maybe even how they identify.

However, it also is important to respect people’s privacy, so it’s best to refrain from asking questions about one’s body and medical history without permission. According to Science Direct, using a person’s pronouns can and will significantly reduce their risk for depression and suicide, so our society should speed up the process of embracing all gender identities and give everyone a chance to be vocal.

 

youths on the phone

Why social media invites people to share their pronouns?

Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest have understood the importance of pronouns and in keeping up with the times, have rolled out profile features that allow their users to share their pronouns.

Instagram has a dedicated space for pronouns that gets displayed next to the user’s profile name. The feature is optional but has been welcomed by gender-neutral identified users. There are 41 pronouns on Instagram’s list and the company is planning to expand it. Their list was discussed and compiled following consultations with various LGBTQ organizations. Users also have the option to mix and match the available pronouns to better reflect their identity.

Facebook changed its options from just “male” and “female”, now offering users more than 50 different gender options to choose from, including non-binary and gender fluid. Moreover, users can choose the pronouns they identify with.

Another social media platform that respects its users and has understood the value and importance of gender identity is Pinterest. The platform allows users to add two sets of pronouns to their profiles from an extensive list that includes neopronouns.

Social media plays an important part in our lives and is often used as a way to express our originality, creativity, and uniqueness. It is only natural to allow users the possibility to also express their gender identity and offer them a space where they can be authentic and true to themselves. Consider sharing your pronouns on social media, and who knows, you might help someone finally feel like they can share their own.

 

girl on social media

The world has already changed. We’re just waiting for our language to reflect that!

It is no longer uncommon to see personal pronouns in email signatures of employees and social media bios; this can only lead to more inclusive cultures and hopefully, the end of harmful gendered language. It costs absolutely nothing to add your personal pronouns in your email signature and it takes little time, but for gender minorities, that pronoun line can make a big difference. This is one step towards crushing the ignorance and fear that attempts to diminish and further marginalize gender minorities in our society.

The presence of gender-neutral pronouns in social media and organizations encourages discussion around gender identity and, more importantly, normalizes the idea that the world has room for everyone and not just cisgender people.

The world has always had more than two genders. and many societies around the world have historically welcomed and embraced transgender and nonbinary members of the community. The faster we accept this as a norm in our society, the sooner we will be able to build a healthier world where everyone is included and appreciated regardless of their gender identity, gender expression, or s. A world that treats gender minorities with respect and encourages everyone to tell their story is a happier, healthier world with fewer mental health risks.

As current generations open the dialogue about mental health issues, the word trauma keeps popping up in conversations. We keep hearing it so often that, I’m concerned at some point, most people will get used to it and trivialize it. We should never be dismissive about trauma. Unfortunately, 70 percent of U.S. adults have experienced trauma, of which, 20 percent developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With this prevalence of trauma, it has become for many, an unseen life companion casting a shadow over their wellbeing.

Undiagnosed and untreated trauma ravages people’s mental health despite an appearance of high functionality and an “everything is fine” facade. They may be a seemingly innocuous occurrence away from having all the emotions associated with past traumatic experiences resurface. Without any warning and usually without explanations.

What is trauma and how do you identify it?

Psychological trauma is an emotional response to a stressful event or events that interfere with one’s sense of security and safety. Trauma is the consequence of terrible events like sexual assault and other forms of abuse, accidents, natural disasters, or wars. It can cause a variety of emotional symptoms like:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Confusion
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Nightmares
  • Lack of trust
  • Inability to focus

But it can also trigger physical symptoms, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Digestive issues
  • Body aches
  • Nausea

Woman crying

It is important to remember that not everyone who experiences traumatic events develops trauma. Nevertheless, different types of trauma can manifest in a variety of ways:

Acute trauma – the result of a single distressing or potentially harmful event that creates a long-term impression and manifests itself through one or several trauma-specific symptoms.

Chronic trauma – the result of repeated or prolonged exposure to toxic stress and highly stressful events, such as bullying, domestic violence, and childhood abuse. Untreated acute trauma may develop into chronic trauma.

Complex trauma – the result of constant exposure to multiple traumatic events, usually negative experiences within interpersonal relationships, such as neglect, domestic violence, childhood abuse.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will experience rape at some point in their lives, and 12% of these women and 30% of these men were younger than ten years old when the aggression happened. The impact of trauma in children can last for a lifetime. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and addictions, and it can prevent people from accessing proper healthcare services. That is why the need for trauma-informed care is imperative and essential for patient wellbeing.

What is a trauma-informed care approach?

Trauma-informed care acknowledges that the patient may have suffered trauma in the past and creates a safe environment when providing the necessary healthcare services. Healthcare providers need to build trauma awareness and create a deep understanding of trauma at each organizational level, including employees that don’t have a medical role but still interact with patients. The goal of trauma-informed care is to allow the medical establishment to provide optimal treatment strategies while preventing any possible re-traumatization that may stop patients from seeking care in the future.

When treating a client in a trauma-informed environment, healthcare professionals focus on understanding what happened to the patient instead of what is wrong with them. The therapist, nurse, or doctor doesn’t necessarily ask the patient to talk about the traumatic events they have experienced or adverse childhood experiences, but when in the presence of symptoms of trauma, they should assume the patient may have a history of trauma and act accordingly. Healthcare professionals need to create an environment that exudes emotional safety and inspires trust.

sad face

Trauma-informed systems may improve patient engagement and treatment adherence to encourage better health outcomes. When treating patients in trauma-informed organizations, the medical care team considers the complete picture of a patient’s life and provides a treatment process that centers around comprehensive healing.

What are the principles of trauma-informed care?

Trauma-informed care demands broad organizational culture change. It needs to be adopted at clinical and organizational levels and offer staff access to knowledge about trauma and the effects of trauma. Everyone from the front desk workers to the medical staff should familiarize themselves with the principles of trauma and work together to provide a safe environment for patients. The foundation of trauma-informed care has six principles:

Safety

Patients should feel physical, emotional, and psychological safety when they are in the care of medical professionals. Both the interior and exterior of the medical organizations should inspire safety (e.g., enough space for patients to avoid sitting too close to strangers, well-lit parking lot, security guards close by to offer protection, nurses open to interact and address concerns).

Trustworthiness and transparency

Nurses should create a transparent environment and build a relationship based on trust. Decisions and the reasons behind them should be discussed and made openly and the care process should be explained in detail to patients.

Peer support

The medical staff must learn and understand various traumatic conditions and the effects of trauma. They need to acknowledge that their patients may have suffered exposure to trauma that prevents them from being open about their health issues and understand their needs. Medical professionals who have experience with certain types of trauma may be able to establish a connection with patients with similar trauma and approach the patient as a “peer”.

Collaboration

Patients should be a part of the conversation when it comes to their healthcare. Therapists, nurses, doctors, and medical organizations should work together with the patients to deliver the best treatment plans. In an environment of trauma-informed care based on mutuality, patients get to participate in healthcare decisions and feel a sense of security that enables them to trust the treatment and follow it through in their daily life.

Empowerment

An organization that delivers healthcare services based on trauma-informed principles gives patients a voice – a voice to tell their stories and have a say in healthcare decisions that concern them.

Cultural Issues

For trauma-informed care to be efficient, the medical professionals and staff members need to identify and eliminate any potential cultural, racial, or gender issues. Biases and stereotypes based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc. should be recognized and addressed to create a more comfortable environment for patients who have had traumatic experiences. The patient’s cultural needs should be accommodated so that they feel seen, heard, and understood.

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Trauma-informed care encourages getting proper healthcare and achieving healing through compassion and open-mindedness. Trauma-informed organizations treat all patients as individuals with a past and present and personalize their care approach to echo their unique needs encouraging them to return to benefit from proper healthcare.

“Take a deep breath!” How many times have you heard this whenever you were feeling anxious, stressed, worried, or even annoyed. So many people around us encourage us to take deep breaths, but why? Why is deep breathing important for our emotional health? How does deep breathing help us calm down and regain control over our minds? Can deep breathing really help us with our emotions?

We breathe in and breathe out all day, every day. We’re not thinking about it and we surely don’t see breathing as a self-care activity. It comes naturally because it is our source of life. But how many times do we stop to take deep breaths? Deep breaths have the power to help us through the claws of tension, stress, and anxiety.

Why is deep breathing important?

Deep breathing practice is one of the tools humans have to improve their mental and physical health. Deep breathing techniques can help us reduce our stress levels, combat anxiety, lower our blood pressure, and even improve our posture. No drugs, no expensive aids involved or required. Just deep breaths!

breathing practice

 

Also known as diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing, deep breathing is often connected to meditation and relaxation techniques. Even though it is one of the ways to work on various mental health conditions and a powerful tool against stress, deep breathing is rarely used to its full potential.

When you take a deep breath, you breathe in air through your nose, fill your lungs, and your lower belly rises. Not many people enjoy the feeling of having a belly full of air. However, chest breathing to maintain a flat stomach limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. This deprives the lower part of the lungs of oxygen and can lead to shortness of breath and higher levels of tension and anxiety.

When we take deep breaths, we increase the amount of oxygen we take in and the amount of carbon dioxide we let out. And this has numerous benefits for our mental and physical health.

man taking deep breaths

How can deep breathing help your mental health?

The main benefit of deep breathing is the impact it has on our stress level responsible for so many of our health problems. Harvard Health explains that stressful thoughts are usually associated with the “fight or flight” response when faced with what our brain interprets as danger. The stress response results in an adrenaline burst that creates increased blood pressure and heart rate. This may often result in shortness of breath and shallow breathing.

While the stress response has its purpose in times of real danger, when it appears often as a result of generalized anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, it can cause harm to your body. That’s because your body doesn’t know the difference between real and perceived threats, and it always reacts as if it were in real danger. This leads to daily adrenaline bursts and an increased level of stress.

Deep breathing techniques can help you reverse the stress response by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. Moreover, it calms your mind and induces a relaxation state.

couple doing breath exercises

How can deep breathing improve your physical health?

People who master the art of deep breathing enjoy a series of physical health benefits. Deep breathing helps improve core muscle stability and allows the body to better tolerate intense exercise. It’s an important tool for athletes who learn various deep breathing techniques to improve their stamina and increase energy levels.

Deep breathing can also lower the chances of your muscles wearing out. Breathing exercises help with the release of the air buildup in your lungs and allow for more oxygen to get to your blood. Moreover, studies show that deep breathing triggers the release of endorphins that help alleviate pain and, according to Smithsonian Magazine, can even improve immunity and digestion due to healthier blood flow.

Deep breathing is often recommended for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The disease decreases the diaphragm’s efficiency and affects oxygen intake. With the right breathing exercises, people suffering from COPD can strengthen their diaphragm’s muscle and help the lungs regain their elasticity. More elastic lungs facilitate diaphragmatic breathing and combat the tendency to stick to shallow breathing.

What are the most popular deep breathing techniques?

Deep breathing may feel unnatural at first. We are used to shallow breathing, and we’ll need to practice to learn how to allow the air to fill our lungs and belly. The most popular type of deep breathing requires you to breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth.

Sit in a comfortable position. Put a hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Breathe in calmly, through your nose, for about five seconds. Feel the air traveling through your nostrils to the abdomen. Allow for your stomach to expand outward while trying to keep your chest still. Hold this breath in for three seconds and then slowly release the air through your mouth for five seconds or more if that feels comfortable. Follow this breathing pattern five times or more.

 

Woman doing yoga

 

The 4-7-8 breathing technique adds counting to the steps mentioned above allowing you to gain more control of your breathing. Inhale while counting to four, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then exhale while counting to eight. Use your hand to push the air out of your stomach. Repeat the pattern for as long as you consider it to be necessary to achieve a calm state of mind.

You can also try rib-stretch breathing. For this exercise, you need to stand up straight with your back arched. Breathe out until you get tired, and then inhale the air slowly and gradually. Breathe in as much air as you can. Hold your breath for 10 seconds. Release the air slowly through your mouth.

Deep breathing should always be slow and gentle. Don’t be afraid to fill your abdomen with air. Keep your hands on your stomach and chest. Make sure your stomach is rising, and pay attention to your breath and heartbeat. Be aware of everything that happens in your body.

Remember though that sometimes deep breathing may not be enough for your mental health in order to feel better. Sometimes they need guidance from professionals who can help them externalize their most intimate fears and manage their emotions. This is when deep breathing techniques should be associated with therapy and counseling. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! You are not alone!

Prefer to watch? Below is the full interview with special guest Ernesto Ayala that served as the original inspiration for this article.

Access and adherence to medication also known as antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV/AIDS has allowed for people diagnosed to obtain undetectable viral loads, stay healthy, and live long fulfilling lives. Sadly, there are still many who are unable to access life-saving medical care and medication due to potential cost, fear, and potential lack of education or awareness around access.

In the United States, Health Care Providers can be very expensive. When contemplating the cost of a treatment plan and treatment services, most individuals will turn to their insurance provider. If you have insurance, it’s a great option for staying current with your health care provider. But sometimes insurance doesn’t cover all types of medical interventions.

It’s for this reason that we’ve compiled a list of important resources you can use to pay for the various types of care you might need if you are living with HIV/AIDS.

HIV Medical Care

Medical care (Medical Appts)

If you have insurance through an employer or purchase insurance on your own:

Health Insurance Premium Payment

  • Obtaining insurance on your own– If you’re eligible for insurance and make above the federal poverty level you can apply for Obama Care/Covered California and obtain an HMO or PPO insurance. If you make under $64,400 as a single you qualify for OA-HIPP through ADAP (AIDS Drug Assistance Program) which can assist with monthly premiums.
  • Obtaining insurance through your employer- If you make under $64,400 as a single you qualify for EB-HIPP through ADAP which can assist with monthly premiums.
    • Your employer is not required to know your status. Your portion of the insurance premium payments are sent directly to the employer on a monthly basis.

To find an agency that helps with ADAP enrollment click here.
To obtain additional information about ADAP visit the California Department of Health here.

State and federally funded medical insurance programs:

Medi-Cal (California)

Making under the federal poverty level- you qualify for Medi-Cal insurance and all medical appts, specialists, and medications are at zero cost. As well, Medi-Cal is free. Medi-cal enrollment can be done online or through a benefits specialist.

Medicare

If you are over the age of 65 or have certain disabilities before the age of 65 you qualify for medicare. To find out more about Medicare go to medicare.gov or go to your local Social Security Office.

Ineligible for Medi-Cal, undocumented, or Underinsured

  • If you are undocumented or do not have access to medical insurance but are HIV positive, you qualify for Ryan White (AOM), which pays for all medical appts related to HIV and specialists if related to HIV. Assistance with applying for Ryan White can be found on FindHivCare.
  • If you are uninsured or underinsured and need a specialty referral, you may qualify for Los Angeles County CHAIN, Medical Subspecialty Services Referral Program, which covers certain outpatient specialty consultations and outpatient surgeries and procedures for patients with HIV/AIDS-related health conditions. For more information, visit CHAIN.

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Financial assistance with Medication to keep your viral load undetectable

  • ADAP: If you are only eligible for Ryan White services, you may sign up for ADAP to help cover the cost of medication. HIV medications are covered through ADAP as well as other classes of medications not necessarily related to HIV.
  • Patient Access Programs – These are programs for people that do not qualify for ADAP that assist with medication financial assistance. Ask at your pharmacy. Most pharmaceutical manufacturers have co-pay cards to assist with high co-pays to medication, or patient support programs for those who are ineligible for ADAP or may be lapsing medication assistance for whatever reason.

Additional information about HIV medication coverage can be found here.

Mental health care for HIV

Mental Health Support for HIV/AIDs Patients

Clearly, having access to the medications you need is a major priority, but your medications alone don’t constitute the complete care many individuals might need. HIV can also take a toll on your emotional well-being. The National Institute of Mental Health states that people living with HIV/AIDS are at higher risk for mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and cognitive disorders. It’s important to remember when looking for a therapist to make sure they are HIV/AIDS affirming in how they work with clients.

I have compiled a list of agencies in the Los Angeles area that are well educated and HIV/AIDS affirming and offer no charge or sliding scale therapy. Many of these agencies have been working with people diagnosed with HIV for over twenty years. It’s imperative that you work with a clinician or agency that has inclusive health care services. Many of these agencies assist with applying for ADAP and Medi-Cal.

Agencies

As with any disease, getting the care you need is paramount. The financial challenges can be significant, but as you can see there are a plethora of resources that can help reduce out-of-pocket costs. Being diagnosed with HIV is understandably overwhelming. With the diagnosis come a lot of new responsibilities, conversations, treatments, and decisions. At times like these, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. There are many organizations in this article brimming with people who have answers and are happy to help. In the end, you’ll see that though it might seem initially overwhelming, you’re not alone, you will get through this, and likely meet new and amazing people along the way. If you have any other questions about the services, resources, and organizations listed here, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d be happy to help you any way I can.

 

Many of us dread going to medical offices. It may not be the medical consultation per se but rather the traffic we have to face to get there, the nuisance of finding a parking spot and sitting in a waiting room next to other people. Often when you have physical symptoms anxiety can increase.

This is why telemedicine may save the day! More than 80% of a medical consultation entails a conversation with the physician who listens to what you have to say, observes, and asks questions. Telehealth, virtual care, or telemedicine uses digital information and communication technologies to deliver clinical health services. Patients can benefit from health care services remotely, through computers or mobile devices, in a variety of settings, including at home, at school, or in seniors’ residences.

According to Science, Telehealth is gaining popularity in the United States especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic as a solution to provide patient care without endangering public health. As long as both parties have a reliable internet connection and access to technology that facilitates virtual appointments, telemedicine is a convenient way to get a diagnosis for health issues not requiring physical contact with the physician. Moreover, Business Insider explains, it allows for remote patient monitoring (RPM) through devices that send patient readings (blood pressure, glucose level, etc.) to the monitoring medical team.

What is a telehealth visit?

A telehealth visit takes place on a telemedicine platform through HIPAA-compliant software. It is a synchronous audio or video appointment between a healthcare provider and a patient. It is important to remember that the telehealth platform is secure and allows for scheduling, patient intake, patient chart management, billing, e-prescribing, ICD-10 codes, etc. A virtual visit follows the same clinical guidelines as an in-person appointment.

Before any telehealth appointment, you need to make sure you have an internet connection and a networked device with a camera and microphone. The virtual appointment is a “face-to-face” online visit with the healthcare provider who will ask questions about your medical history and the current symptoms you need assessed. Depending on the equipment available during the consultation at the patient’s location, the healthcare specialist may ask for vital sign readings, such as temperature, weight, and blood pressure.

For example, in the case of COVID-19 symptoms, most patients who were diagnosed by phone or other mobile device had a thermometer at hand. Healthcare apps might also do the trick for estimated readings, although they are not entirely reliable. For physical symptoms, a camera is vital for the physician to inspect the area of concern and make an evidence-based diagnosis. When the virtual visit concludes, the patient may get the following if determined appropriate–  a diagnosis, a referral information about the next step of the evaluation, a prescription, or any other recommendations they may get following in-person visits.

Telehealth2

What are the applications of telehealth?

Telehealth has a wide range of applications, including tele-education and tele-consultation. While tele-education focuses on healthcare professionals reducing travel time and attending continuing medical education, tele-consultation addresses the need for virtual patient care. Most telemedicine visit centers focus on gathering symptoms and other information that can lead to diagnosis and treatment. Telehealth is an ideal solution for patients who deal with minor health issues, like a sore throat, flu, insect bites, allergies, cough, eye infections, or sprains, that don’t require lab tests or imaging for diagnosis.

Many primary care clinics have an online patient portal that allows for more secure communication of private medical information than through a regular email. Moreover, the portal is a useful online tool that facilitates access to test result reviews, visit summaries, prescription refills, and appointment scheduling. Everything gets done fast and securely directly on your mobile device or computer.

Additionally, telehealth facilitates counseling and therapy services. The visits are very similar to the in-person sessions allowing the therapist to interact with the patient over the phone or through video conferencing. Telemedicine is a very useful tool for people who battle mental health issues like depression, anxiety, stress, eating disorders, and obsessions and compulsions because it allows for easier access to mental health care.

Telehealth is an efficient way to provide therapy to people who have busy schedules, live in remote locations, or have limited mobility. Since the sessions can take place without the patient having to visit the therapist’s office, telemedicine may help the patient feel more comfortable and reduce the stigma associated with going to therapy. Furthermore, telemedicine may increase the effectiveness of the treatment because the patient will find it easier to show up for appointments.

How to prepare for a telehealth visit?

Check the patient portal of your health care provider for details about your appointment. Most telemedicine visit centers send an appointment link via email. Before clicking on the appointment email, make sure you find a private and quiet space for your virtual visit. Good lighting is important, especially if you have physical symptoms the physician should see.

Check your internet connection and test your device’s camera and microphone if you are scheduled for a video consultation. The internet speed should be at least 1 megabit per second, and the internet connection should be secure due to the private nature of your conversation. If the visit takes place by phone, make sure you have no family members, pets, or other distractions around you and use a telephone you are familiar with. Check the sound quality.

Log in onto the platform or the program 15 minutes before the appointment and have at hand your recent lab results and any other information that may be useful during the consultation. Depending on your medical condition, you should also be ready to use a thermometer, blood pressure monitor, pulse oximeter, or glucose monitor.

Prepare a list of questions you may have for the health care provider. If you’re experiencing physical symptoms that need to be assessed visually, like a rash, be ready to expose it to the camera. In most cases, the physician can prescribe new prescriptions and refills via telehealth, and these will be sent to a delivery service or a pharmacy from where you can collect them or have them delivered to your home.

health

You already know exercise is good for your physical health. The numerous benefits of exercise have been praised for decades now. It helps you burn calories and stay fit, protects your heart health, and improves your quality of life. But did you know that exercise has mental health benefits too? Studies have shown that exercise can be an effective tool against stress, depression, and anxiety.

While patients who battle mental health disorders often lack the motivation to practice any physical activity, an active lifestyle may help you keep your mental health conditions under control. Moreover, regular exercise can prevent mental health problems before they start.

How can exercise help with mental illness?

One of the positive effects of physical exercise is its power to enhance well-being. Exercise decreases stress hormones leading to a boost of endorphins, the chemicals that make us “feel good”. This process enhances our mood and improves energy levels. Consequently, we feel more positive and sleep better.

Physical activity can pull us out of the vicious circle of negative thoughts and emotions, often the source of our depression or anxiety, and redirect our focus towards the activity at hand. Exercise is often seen as a buffer against stress. While stress is an innate part of our life, people who work out regularly are less affected by it and find it easier to cope with everything life throws at them.

Exercise gives you a boost of self-confidence, enhances your self-esteem, and makes you feel better about yourself. Whether this happens because you lose weight, get more toned, or simply feel healthier, this benefit of exercise is all about making peace with yourself. Physical activity relieves tension and promotes mindfulness. While you focus on your yoga poses, weight training, or any other type of exercise, you concentrate entirely on your body and manage to be present, away from worries and negative thoughts that consume you. 

Additionally, exercise promotes social interaction and gives you the chance to meet new people, socialize, and escape your bubble of worries. Sometimes, a simple conversation or a smile is enough to boost our mood and feel grateful for what we have. Moreover, exercise materializes into a positive activity that helps you cope in a healthy way.

A study shows that running 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. Moreover, maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent individuals from relapsing and promotes various changes in the brain to help you feel calmer and at peace.

What exercise should I do for mental health?

There are many types of exercise that can contribute to your mental health and well-being. All physical activity promotes increased energy levels, stamina, and positivity. You should find exercises that you enjoy to make it easier for you to follow a regular schedule. It is important to remember that when we say physical activity we include everything from walking to formal exercise programs. Exercise is not only about swimming, running, or lifting weights. Daily physical activities like household chores, gardening, washing your car, or taking the stairs, all count and make a difference. Now, it would be great if you were to adopt a regular exercise routine, to add a certain structure to your day that will keep you balanced and grounded. You can try one of these types of exercise:

  • Yoga – a 2018 Science Direct study shows that yoga can help reduce stress levels, lower heart rate, increase energy, and ameliorate the symptoms of depression and anxiety;
  • Tai chi – an ancient Chinese martial art, this type of exercise, according to Science Daily, reduces stress and anxiety, contributes to the treatment of depression, and increases self-esteem;
  • Aerobic exercise – whether it is jogging, swimming, playing basketball, or cycling, regular aerobic exercise improves mental health and reduces the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and panic disorder.

Regardless of the type of exercise you choose, you can expect a prompt release of endorphins, an increased sense of self-efficacy, and lower levels of anxiety and depression. Exercise works just like an antidepressant by increasing the brain’s levels of neurotransmitters and enhancing mood.

How often should I exercise to see results?

Fortunately, you don’t have to exercise for hours to reap the beneficial effects exercise has on your well-being and mental health. Only 30 minutes of exercise a day for three to five days a week will be more than enough for you to feel more confident, happier, and less anxious. However, even smaller amounts of moderate exercise, such as 10 or 15 minutes at a time, may help. You can break your exercise schedule into several short sessions or simply plan your physical activity according to your daily routine. Choose to take the stairs, park farther away from your destination or cycle to work.

Remember that more exercise is not necessarily better for you. You don’t need to run 10k to improve your mental health and emotional well-being. The key is consistency. Regular physical activity over a long period of time beats any intense physical activity practiced sporadically.

Time Magazine explains, researchers have found a higher mental health burden for people who exercise for more than six hours a week than for those who keep it to three to five times a week. The answer is not at all difficult to understand: basically, shorter exercise sessions are easier to fit in our daily routine and promote consistency.

Nevertheless, before you begin an exercise program, discuss it with a health professional. They can help you choose the best form of exercise for you depending on your health, medication, fitness level, and lifestyle.

Whether you want to exercise for depression, anxiety, or any other mental health disorders, you should start slowly and keep experimenting until you find the perfect type of exercise for you. Our bodies are different and we should respect their limits. Make a commitment to your exercise plan and never overdo it. The role of exercise is to make you healthier and happier. However, if you start seeing it as a burden or task, it loses its therapeutic effects and just adds to your anxieties.

Yoga

In a world where heteronormativity, prejudice, and harassment continue to run rampant against the LGBTQ community, meeting with an LGBTQ affirmative therapist is imperative. An LGBTQ affirmative counselor can provide the tools for unpacking shame, deeper understanding, and overall acceptance. An LGBTQ affirmative therapist can remind you that nothing is wrong with you for being a part of the LGBTQ community. Despite the campaigns calling for inclusion, legalizing same-sex marriage, and anti-bullying education in schools, the LGBTQ community still encounters ongoing challenges.

Antiquated societal norms that label people as “normal” and “abnormal” create immense pressure for the LGBTQ community. These pressures double the likelihood that members of this community will develop a mental health disorder as compared to heterosexual individuals. Moreover, according to the CDC, they are 2.5 times more likely to struggle with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. On top of the “usual” societal stressors, LGBTQ people have to endure bullying, discrimination, and abuse based on their sexuality and/or gender identity.

What is LGBTQ affirmative therapy?

The National Library of Medicine defines LGBTQ affirmative therapy as “a form of therapy that helps a person accept their intrinsic identity, gender, and sexual orientation and see beyond the damaging concept of ‘normality’ as imposed by a discriminatory society.” Fearing judgment and discrimination, many people find it hard to accept themselves as they are and embrace their gender or sexual identity. Unfortunately, this too often manifests as internalized transphobia or homophobia for many LGBTQ individuals.

The role of an LGBTQ affirmative therapist is to create a safe space for the client to communicate their emotions, thoughts, and actions and validate their needs. Unfortunately, many therapists still find it hard to accept LGBTQ people as “normal”. As a result, many of these therapists provide care that is subpar and can interfere with overall well-being. Still, even today, many states have not banned conversion therapy.  Many LGBTQ people have experienced horrific trauma from conversion therapy.

As an affirmative therapist and advocate for the LGBTQ community, I stand by the life-saving belief that affirmative counseling will never attempt to convert or “repair” someone’s gender or sexual identity. More than 700,000 LGTBQ people have been exposed to incredibly damaging and medically unjust conversion therapy. I want my clients, whether they are recently coming out or have been out for years, to know nothing is wrong with them.

therapist with patient

How will affirmative therapy help?

I know firsthand what it’s like to experience non-LGBTQ affirmative care and the impact it can have on one’s life and self-worth. Mental health professionals who provide affirmative therapy sessions encourage clients to discover their authenticity and embrace their gender and sexuality without guilt. They create a positive space for self-acceptance and understanding of gender, sexuality, and identity expression.

Affirmative therapy can also support one’s understanding of the ways in which their religious and sexual or gender identities coexist. Religion plays an important part in many people’s lives, but true self-acceptance can remain difficult in the face of religious dogma. Therapy can help integrate the two and provides the necessary support for clients to affirm their genuine identity in all realms.

The lack of support and understanding from family members and friends can be very painful. The absence of this support may contribute to a deep sense of loneliness that may eventually lead to a mental health issue.  Some people turn to harmful strategies to cope with the stigma and discrimination, such as isolation, self-harm, and substance abuse. Debilitating fears of violence, depression, anxiety, and PTSD may also arise. Therapy helps you identify and acknowledge the source of harmful behavior and replace it with a healthy coping strategy so you can find, accept, and love yourself.

How will affirmative therapy work?

Affirmative therapists know that it is vital to create a safe space for LGBTQ individuals to reveal their true selves without the fear of judgment or prejudice. LGBTQ people, just like everyone else, come to therapy to solve relationship issues and work through mental health disorders. While conditions such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and trauma are common, these mental health conditions are not LGBTQ issues but human issues. Members of this community just happen to experience an additional layer of shame and fear related to their gender identity or sexual orientation. After all, only a few decades ago homosexuality was deemed a mental illness, and, unfortunately, in some parts of the world, it still is.

Therapy should focus on helping the client understand that what they think, feel, or desire is natural and an important part of who they are. The affirmative therapist should be trained and ready to gently work with the client’s needs and expectations. It is important to remember that affirmative therapy focuses on the client’s relationship with their feelings and identity. Sexual orientation or gender identity is never the problem. Only through understanding, acceptance, and integration, can the client find peace and healing.

pride parade