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Two things to know about stress:

  • It's a major factor in all kinds of health issues, including autoimmune disease; &
  • It's notoriously hard to manage.

The good news? Some kinds of stress are preventable. Like the kind that results from living with prejudice and discrimination.

If we can eliminate that prejudice and discrimination.

Prejudice and Discrimination

This week I had the privilege of supporting a group of youth when they presented at a mental health conference. Their presentation was on The Impacts of Hetero-normativity & Cis-normativity on Youth Mental Health.

First question:

Q: What's Cis?

A: Identifying as the gender you were assigned at birth.

The youth were speaking from experience. About the impacts of prejudice and discrimination on the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth.

But the same argument could be made for the impacts on their physical health. Currently and in the future.

Now that I understand the connection between stress and health issues, I'm always looking for opportunities to prevent stress. In my own life, and for other people. Especially young people.

Because I'm interested in disrupting the patterns that may one day cause people to tip over into autoimmunity or other chronic health issues.

So let's look at this (entirely preventable) source of stress and illness.

Hetero-normativity & Cis-normativity: What's the problem?

Here's what the youth told the doctors, clinicians, practitioners and parents in their workshop:

LGBTQ+ identity doesn’t cause mental health problems, yet LGBTQ+ youth have extraordinarily high rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide and substance use.

Why?

This video helps to answer that question:

The youth explained that LGBTQ+ youth face increased vulnerability due to:

  • Loss of supports: rejection by family, friends and community;
  • Burden of keeping their a secret identity;
  • Bullying and violence;
  • Discrimination/hetero-normatavity/genderism;
  • The coming out process;
  • Internalized homophobia;
  • Being confused/not knowing how they identify/feeling uncomfortable in their gender; &
  • Pathologization by the medical/psychiatric community.

They shared fresh (2015) statistics from the Canada-wide Transgender Youth Health Survey:

  • Almost half of trans youth reported feeling stressed to the point that they could not do their work or deal with things during the last 30 days;
  • More than half of trans youth reported they had hurt themselves on purpose in the last year; &
  • 65% of trans youth had seriously considered suicide, more than a third had attempted suicide at least once, and nearly 1 in 10 had attempted suicide 4 or more times.

They asked us: Does it make sense that they, as LGBTQ+ youth, face approximately 14 times the risk of suicide and substance abuse than their heterosexual and cisgender peers, when mental health problems, substance use and suicide are not side-effects of having a minority sexual identity or gender orientation?

They are side-effects of prejudice and discrimination.

I have personal history in this space.

My cousin committed suicide after beginning the process of transitioning their gender and realizing that perhaps they weren't male or female.

So getting an autoimmune disease later in life isn't the only thing I'm concerned about for our young people.

BE proactive

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What's the Solution?

If we are interested in health and well-being, it makes sense to do everything in our power to do to limit the causes of illness, including preventable causes of stress, beginning as early as possible.

And youth are saying that it would be really helpful if we could start by making space for who they are.

Sounds like a reasonable request to me.

They offered a strategy:

Start with Language

Youth who have a non-binary gender identity may prefer different pronouns than he or she, but most of us are unfamiliar with gender-neutral pronouns and feel awkward using them.

The youth recommended that we embrace the awkwardness and practice: "because you know what? It’s way more awkward to have people ignore your gender identity. It’s so awkward it causes self-harm and suicide. So really, embracing a little awkwardness while you get used to using some new words is worth it!"

They shared some of the pronouns that transgender people may prefer including: They/them; Xe/xir; Ze/Mer; Ve; Ney and Yo.

If that list is overwhelming, they said that most transgender people are fine with 'they/them' as gender-neutral pronouns. The key is to ask: "Is there a gender pronoun you prefer?".

Just ask!

They also offered two tips for pronoun usage:

  1. Never make assumptions about a person's gender identity; &
  2. If you slip up and use the wrong pronoun, just correct yourself & move on.

Be an Ally

You can promote the long-term health and well-being of LGBTQ+ young people through being an ally.

What can an ally do? Yolanda Bogert, mother of a transgender youth, printed a retraction in the birth announcements when her son Kai transitioned from female to male. As an example.

If we could all get behind supporting (and celebrating) who our young people are, we could go a long way toward improving our collective health and well-being.

Preventable sources of stress: let's eradicate them and be healthier together!

Find part 2 of this post My Story: The Health Impacts of Prejudice & Discrimination by Rory Linehan, the Paleo PI.

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