This Pride Month, let’s not lose sight of the millions of LGBTQI Americans who struggle with substance abuse and mental health challenges

By Matt B., Treatment Tech, Retreat


June is upon us, which means warm, sun kissed days at the beach; leisurely late night strolls in the balmy air; and yes, a surfeit of rainbows.

Rainbows are popping up everywhere: Flags, hats, stickers, shirts, even in hair. While many of us just think of June as the start of summer, for the LGBTQI community, it means something more: Pride Month.

Pride Month is a time when we celebrate the universal power of love. The LBGTQ+ community originally chose June as this most important month to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Manhattan — a historic event that began the LGBTQI liberation movement. Although our community has made enormous strides since then, we continue to be besieged by adversarial forces that would seek to denigrate and tear us apart. The struggles our LGBTQI brothers and sisters have faced have manifested in noticeable mental health consequences.

Many psychiatric and human rights organizations have released statistics on the state of mental health within the LGBTQI community — and the numbers are alarming. The American Psychiatric Association reported in 2017 that individuals who identify themselves as LGBTQI are over twice as likely as their heterosexual peers to experience a mental health disorder within their lifetime. LGBTQI individuals are nearly three times likelier to suffer from substance abuse or misuse, anxiety, and depression, as compared to their heterosexual counterparts.

Unfortunately, the negative stats don’t just stop there. When polled by the APA, 2.3% of heterosexual Americans reported they have considered attempting suicide; among gay and lesbian men and women, that number rises to 4.4%, and up to 7.4% among bisexual adults. The worst affliction of suicidal ideation is among those who identify as transgender, for whom the number skyrockets to 30.8%. This staggeringly high number only increases among minority members of the transgender community: Namely, demographics including African Americans, Hispanics, and multiracial Americans.

So now, let me tell you a bit about myself. My name is Matt; I’m a treatment tech at Retreat, working in sunny Palm Beach County. Throughout many years of my youth and early adulthood, I engaged in heavy drinking for many different reasons, one of which was my sexuality.

I wasn’t ashamed of being gay, but because of societal influences and pressures, I still felt less than, different, and unwanted. Although I grew up in a liberal city, I still endured my fair share of discrimination and bullying. I struggled to accept and love myself for who I was. It wasn’t until I sought treatment at Retreat at Lancaster County that I began my life in recovery, but also could finally come to fully accept myself and my sexuality.

As a patient, I felt safe, accepted, and cared for. I attended LGBTQI-specific group counselling, and gradually began to heal. I was cared for by staff who are staunch allies of our community, and, the whole time, I felt like I was worthy and I was enough. I am now blessed to work for Retreat Behavioral Health, the very organization that helped save my life.

Working for this team gives me a chance to pay it forward, to share the same level of care I received with other patients — those who are part of the LGBTQI community, and those who are not.

But it’s not just me who believes so passionately in the essence of our work. Our entire staff is familiar with and trained in the nuances of LGBTQI culture, to provide specific and targeted treatment for our community.

So yes — it’s June and it’s Pride Month. But as we celebrate the massive contributions the LGBTQI community has given to society, let’s also take the time to contribute to them. If you know someone who is struggling — or if, in fact, you yourself are struggling — then reach out.

Retreat is here to help, and so am I. You’re not alone.