A high rate of LGBTQ Long Islanders like Micah Schneider,...

A high rate of LGBTQ Long Islanders like Micah Schneider, 28, of Ronkonkoma, who identifies as nonbinary and transgender, have struggled with mental health issues. “I didn’t ever feel like I fit. I didn’t fit in my body. I didn’t fit in my soul," Schneider said. Credit: Lisa Czulinski

LGBTQ Long Islanders have high rates of depression and other mental health issues, and nearly 1 in 4 have seriously considered suicide, a first-of-its kind survey released Friday found.

Transgender, gender-nonconforming and pansexual Long Islanders were especially likely to report “poor” or “fair” mental health and moderate to severe anxiety or depression, the survey found.

The survey, conducted by Stony Brook Medicine with 30 community partners, is the first comprehensive survey of the mental and physical health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning Long Islanders, survey organizers and LGBTQ leaders said.

“This is groundbreaking,” Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott said during a virtual news conference Friday unveiling the results. “Everything before this was estimates, it was guessing, it was speculation. You actually have real hard data based on surveys, on asking real people these types of health questions.”

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Dr. Allison Eliscu, medical director of the adolescent LGBTQ+ care program at Stony Brook Medicine and principal investigator of the study, emphasized that “LGBTQ people are not inherently prone to mental and behavioral health concerns just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. They are at higher risk because of how they are stigmatized and mistreated in society.”

Nationwide, LGBTQ people are more than twice as likely as heterosexual people to have a mental health disorder in their lifetimes, and 2 ½ times more likely to experience depression, anxiety or substance misuse, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

David Kilmnick, president and CEO of the Hauppauge-based LGBT Network, the largest LGBTQ organization on Long Island, said actions such as the initial decision in June by the Smithtown library board to remove Pride Month displays from libraries’ children's rooms help stigmatize LGBTQ Long Islanders.

“These intentional attempts to target and discriminate against our community certainly would have an impact on anyone’s mental health,” he said.

The library system reversed itself and adopted a statement that said its decision was wrong after pressure from Gov. Kathy Hochul and others.

The 2021 survey, of 1,150 adults living or attending college or technical school on Long Island, was primarily of Suffolk residents; 15% were from Nassau.

The survey illustrated how distinct groups within LGBTQ communities have very different experiences and needs and “are not a monolith,” Lauren La Magna, public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, which serves Suffolk, said during the news conference.

More than two-thirds of transgender, gender-nonconforming — a category that study authors said includes people who identify as nonbinary — and pansexual respondents reported “poor” or “fair” mental health, compared with 26.1% of gay men and 34.8% of lesbians, the survey found. Pansexual people have sexual or emotional attractions regardless of sex or gender identity. Gender nonconforming people do not follow gender stereotypes or societal expectations.

Study participant Micah Schneider, 28, of Ronkonkoma, who identifies as nonbinary and transgender and uses the pronoun they, said being an out lesbian in Kings Park as a teenager “was never an issue for me,” apart from online harassment.

But Schneider had a harder time coming to terms with their gender identity after high school.

“I didn’t ever feel like I fit. I didn’t fit in my body. I didn’t fit in my soul,” they said. “That hurts your heart and hurts your being. And when people don’t understand you and don’t try to, that’s really lonely and really isolating.”

Therapy, medication and meeting other nonbinary and transgender people — mainly online — mean that “I am leaps and bounds above where I was,” Schneider said.

Adults 18 to 25 also were among those most likely to report mental health issues.

Schneider attributed that to bullying and hatred online, where young people spend a lot of free time.

“People who may not have been brave and bold to say something to my face, or call me a slur to my face, were calling me a slur online,” they said.

Black, Asian, low-income and bisexual/bicurious Long Islanders, and those who identify as queer, also had higher rates of poor and fair mental health.

"You have to deal with the discrimination based on race and ethnicity in society in addition to stigma in your own community, as well as from your sexual orientation or gender identity,” Pigott said.

The survey found mistreatment by health care providers: 37% of respondents — including 60% of transgender people — said they had been treated “disrespectfully or in a non-affirming way” by a provider or office staff.

Two-thirds of respondents said they experienced verbal harassment because of their gender or sexual identity, and nearly 32% experienced physical harassment.

Jennifer Jamilkowski, director of planning for Stony Brook Medicine, said a new survey is planned in a few years.

Meanwhile, Stony Brook is taking a number of steps in response to the findings, Eliscu said, including LGBTQ cultural sensitivity training for health providers and community-based organizations, the addition of LGBTQ material in medical student curricula, expanding young adult and adolescent support groups, and distribution of a directory of LGBTQ care providers and services.

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