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How important is a sense of belonging for the mental health of LGBTQ+ people?


Illustration of LGBTQ+ community
pch.vector / Freepik

Opinion by Elliot Negru

Throughout history, community has been integral to the survival of the human race. In fact, it's quite literally within our nature to seek out connection with others to provide us with a sense of safety and belonging. Elliot Negru explores the benefits connectedness can provide for the mental health of LGBTQ+ people, and the areas we still need to focus on to ensure every LGBTQ+ person can experience them.


All people need to feel as if they belong in the world; within their wider community and social circles. Identifying as LGBTQ+ can foster the need to feel a sense of belonging and connectedness with like-minded individuals or groups. So how can we feel connected to a group and how can this further impact our mental health and resilience within the community?



The feeling of belonging


According to a 2012 study by Frost and Meyer, a sense of ‘community connectedness’ is related to our fundamental human need to belong, which in turn is associated with positive individual and social outcomes. This sense of belonging doesn't have a blanket definition though – we all have a different definition for what community means to us, such as the people in our city, an emotional bond, or a mix of both.


From a psychological perspective, being part of a community allows us to socialise and offer as well as receive support; communities provide safe spaces and resources, and can even protect us against threats. Moreover, according to recent research, connectedness is a protective factor against the negative impacts of minority stress (this is stress members of a minority group face).


In a study that focused on how gay men viewed the LGBTQ+ community, they found that this community was useful for:

  • Socialising (friendship, romantic relationships through friend meet-ups, gay bars etc.)

  • Political activism (Pride marches, advocating for LGBTQ+ rights)

  • Combating loneliness and isolation (social media groups, forums etc.)

There are several benefits that belonging in a group can provide for individuals, and these feelings of connectedness can also be redirected to societal issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community. Several research papers have found that one’s relationship and membership with the LGBTQ+ community are meaningfully influenced by being involved in activism, political movements and social justice. In addition, LGBTQ+ youth often report an eagerness to understand more about the history and challenges that have affected the community throughout the years, and act as role models for future generations.



Impact on mental health


Young people who identify as LGBTQ+ rely on the community to meet similar individuals outside heteronormative society, and for those experiencing depression or suicidal ideation, these communities provide a sense of purpose through creating social connections.


Feeling connected with one’s community is also linked with being able to freely display one’s identity and can lead to mental health stability and overall wellbeing. Research also suggests that associating yourself with a group to which you feel supported by can promote resilience and act as a crucial coping mechanism.


Lastly, a 2007 study by Detrie and Lease highlighted how group belongingness contributed to an increased sense of social support and ‘collective self-esteem’ which was strongly related with psychological wellbeing such as purpose in life, autonomy and self-acceptance.

 

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Future areas of focus


Even though we live in the era of technology, we forget that for some of us, staying connected and engaged with the community is harder than it seems. LGBTQ+ individuals living in rural or nonmetropolitan areas for example benefit from being connected to the community too, but are often less involved. This can pose several challenges such as discrimination, social isolation and fewer LGBTQ+ resources. Thus, it’s essential to understand how individuals from these areas navigate these challenges and what support, such as online groups and forums or monthly meet-ups, can be offered to increase their sense of belonging.


Illustration of Paul Kwon's theoretical model of LGB resilience
Paul Kwon's theoretical model of resilience for the LGB community is an example of positive ongoing research into improving LGBT mental health. Source: Mendlein 2016.


Overall, we all thrive and live happier, more fulfilling lives when we feel accepted and connected to a group. It allows us not only to share similar views on topics that hold a special place in our hearts, but it also broadens our perspectives, makes us feel heard and can even lead to social justice movements.


So, whether you have been part of the LGBTQ+ community for ages or are just at the beginning of your journey, you never know how your mental health and wellbeing will improve if you just try reaching out to others that are in the same boat as you!

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