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Gay Marriage is a Mental Health Issue

Cathy Hanville, LCSW, talks about how gay marriage is a mental health issue, especially for youth.

My training was as a social worker, and social justice was part of my training and is part of my being. As I have made the transition from being a social worker on the front lines to a psychotherapist talking to a person on the couch, this looks different. 

Politics is something that generally doesn't get talked about in session. But gay marriage is an exception. Working with LGBT clients who have spent most of their lives being disenfranchised, it is devastating when North Carolina passes a constitutional amendment to ban not only gay marriage but civil unions. This is in a state where gay marriage was already illegal, but some felt it needed to be enshrined in the state constitution. 

Why is this relevant? Because a recent study showed that, in Massachusetts after gay marriage was passed, there were lower health care costs for gay men. This was a result across the board, whether the gay man was himself married or not. In particular, there was a reduction in mental health diagnoses for anxiety and depression.

While there is limited research thus far, I believe that the rate of suicide among LGBT teens is higher in states where gay marriage is illegal. We already know that gay teens have a five times higher rate for suicide, and living in an environment where a very basic right is denied gives a strong message that being gay is not acceptable. In fact, what research there is actually says that, in environments where being gay is not accepted, the overall youth suicide is higher. There was a devastating Rolling Stone expose on about the war on gay teens in Michelle Bachman's home state. To see people so focused on their narrow and, in my opinion, hateful agenda to the point that children are dying is incomprehensible. 

I sense we have hit a tipping point with gay marriage in this country. The tide has turned significantly in the last 20 years. It is just a matter of time until it is legal in the US. I can be patient. However, I worry about the young people that are trapped in states where the word "gay" cannot be uttered in the schools. I fear that they cannot be patient and their lives are at stake. 

For more about my practice see www.cathyhanville.com.

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Ross Stapleton-Gray May 18, 2012 at 02:51 AM
As a 50-year-old straight male, I'm somewhat agog at how much has changed over what feels to me (though my perception of time has changed as I've aged; for my daughters, it's been several of their lifetimes) a comparatively short time... from when boys in my junior high were routinely called "faggot" or "queer" (yet I doubt with any great understanding by the callers as to what sex, with either gender, much entailed), to when it's entirely reasonable (at least in this state) to ask why there should be any restriction on two people marrying. And I don't think that's going to reverse, as ugly as the reactionary rear-guard action might be. As a church/state-separation fan, I'd be happiest to see a Constitutional amendment or Supreme Court decision cleave a bright line between "marriage" (in the eyes of the state, i.e., for legal rights and tax purposes) and "marriage" (as churches might acknowledge it, for whatever theological ideas they might have), so that any US citizen can enjoy the former, and let churches dress up (or not) couples' pairings however they might like. If your church wants to bless or curse my marriage, go for it; if I'm not a member of your church, it's rather irrelevant to me, and ought to be for you...
Amy Marsh May 18, 2012 at 03:35 AM
Thank you for writing this piece!
Ross Stapleton-Gray May 18, 2012 at 05:53 AM
It's also well worth noting the whole "It Gets Better" effort, which has to also be establishing lifelines to individuals who'd otherwise feel adrift alone.
Cathy Hanville, LCSW May 18, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Thank you both for your comments. As Ross mentions there is an effort to bring hope to LGBT youth. http://www.itgetsbetter.org/ Many of the videos are extremely touching and emotional.
Alan Eckert May 18, 2012 at 06:59 PM
The 1st Amendment should be enough, but too many people don't have a full understanding as to what is written in our Constitution.
Ross Stapleton-Gray May 18, 2012 at 07:41 PM
Yes, well, precedent and social norms end up influencing how the Constitution is seen. I'm disappointed that the Supreme Court decided that "In God We Trust" was embedded enough in the cultural fabric that it ought to be kept on the money, even though it's clearly a religious slogan; were it not for all that dead weight, same-sex marriage would be a slam dunk in a Constitutional issues case, but we're getting there. The longer we go without the Republic falling apart, despite same-sex marriage happening in various states...
Anna Shapiro May 19, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Thank you for this. I hadn't thought about the correlation between gay marriage rights and mental health but it makes a lot of sense. Disempowerment spreads quickly and deeply. Marriage can be such a deep symbolic act for not only the couple, but their friends and family. That said, I also wish that people in domestic partnerships, both straight and gay, had the same rights as married couples.
Cathy Hanville, LCSW May 25, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Thanks for all the thoughtful comments.

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