Rainbow Flag LGBTQ

Rainbow Logos Are Not Enough: Supporting the Mental Health of LGBTQ+ Employees

June is Pride Month, a time to celebrate progress towards equity for LGBTQ+ Americans while acknowledging the room we still have for growth. For employers previously content to post supportive rainbow logos and flags on social media, it’s time to embrace Pride Month as an opportunity to fully support the mental health needs of their LGBTQ+ workers.

While acceptance and visibility of LGBTQ+ Americans have vastly improved in recent years, a recent study on the mental health of LGBTQ+ young adults provides disturbing evidence of the significant challenges this community still faces.

In its 2022 survey, The Trevor Project reported that 37% of LGBTQ+ Americans ages 18 – 24 seriously considered suicide in the past year, and nearly one in ten attempted it. Among these young adults, 69% reported anxiety symptoms, and 53% experienced symptoms of depression, both up from 2020 levels. More than three in four wanted mental health care, but only 40% actually received the care they needed.

Mental health challenges are prevalent among employees everywhere, but underrepresented groups face their own unique challenges. With 7.1% of U.S. adults self-identifying as LGBTQ+ in 2022, including 21% of adults born between 1997 and 2003, the mental health issues facing this community impact every workplace.

According to a 2018 Human Rights Campaign survey, 46% of LGBTQ+ workers are closeted at work, leaving them unable to express their authentic selves for most of their waking hours. One in four LGBTQ+ employees reports that their coworkers appear uncomfortable if they talk about their sexual orientation or gender identities, such as mentioning a partner, spouse, or other topics non-LGBTQ+ people routinely discuss at work.

This research confirmed that these concerns prevent members of this community from being open and engaged in the workplace; 36% of non-LGBTQ+ workers report they are uncomfortable hearing an LGBTQ+ colleague talk about dating, and 59% of non-LGBTQ+ workers feel it is unprofessional to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity at work.

Many LGBTQ+ employees are at a unique crossroads, dealing with the universal stigma associated with mental health disorders and the persistent stigma surrounding their sexuality and gender identity. This community experiences discrimination and harassment constantly, and the workplace offers no safe haven.

Faced with workplaces that can feel unwelcoming, if not outright hostile, to their sexual orientations and gender identities, many LGBTQ+ workers struggle with mental health challenges that require employer empathy and support. The Human Rights Campaign survey found:

One in four LGBTQ+ employees feel distracted from work and an equal number report they avoid certain people in the workplace.

31% of LGBTQ+ employees feel unhappy or depressed while on the job.

20% of LGBTQ+ employees have searched for a new employer.

What can business leaders do to better support the mental health of LGBTQ+ employees and create a better work environment for everyone?

For starters, companies can respect every employee’s right to share their identity or keep it private by building a culture that champions openness, vulnerability and respect. Different people have different levels of comfortability. As Lyra health – a One Mind at Work sponsor – puts it “empathetic listening” is key.

Next, employers can create a workplace culture that is both safe and informed so that employees have the option to openly discuss their mental health. Employers that champion psychological safety backed by concrete actions can provide a range of psychological benefits and improve LGBTQ+ representation within an organization.

Time and time again we point to awareness as a core pillar to any workplace mental health strategy. Employers must let people know they’re in a safe environment. This can be done through online awareness campaigns, through leadership communications, and by posting visible signage of workplace mental health resources or declarations of inclusivity. Establishing clear policies that protect against discrimination is one thing. Making employees aware they exist is another.

Finally, companies have the opportunity to integrate culturally responsive care and a diverse provider network in employee mental health benefits. This means ensuring that mental health benefits include access to providers who practice care that considers the patient’s cultural and experiential background during treatment.

The best way for companies to honor Pride Month is not through easy gestures, but through meaningful action to address the real challenges facing many LGBTQ+ employees. This June, employers should fully commit to supporting the mental health of their LGBTQ+ employees and making their workplaces safe, welcoming and accepting of all workers.