Featuring Kirk Chisholm LMSW, CASAC, RevCore’s Clinical Director
Q: I have a brother who identifies as gay, and he has struggled a lot lately with depression and substance abuse. It’s so hard for me to see him in so much pain. How can I best support him and empower him to get the help he needs?
A: I’m very sorry to hear about your brother’s struggles. It’s always painful to see someone we love hurting, especially when we feel helpless about how best to help them. Your care and empathy prove that you’re already a supportive figure in his life, which is so important at this time.
The unfortunate truth is that folks in the LGBTQI+ community are 2.5 times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance misuse than heterosexual people. That being said, there are things that you and he can do to get through this — and supporting your brother will certainly make a huge difference. Here are a few concrete suggestions for how you can help:
1. Listen and Validate His Feelings
Start a dialogue with your brother to make sure that he feels heard and understood. Be open, accepting, and nonjudgmental when discussing his feelings. Validate his emotions, which means acknowledging that his feelings are important and real. This can be as simple as saying, “It sounds like you’re feeling really overwhelmed. That must be really hard.”
2. Educate Yourself
Learn the facts about depression, substance abuse, and LGBTQI+ specific issues. This can help you understand what your brother might be experiencing and will also demonstrate your commitment to supporting him.
3. Encourage Professional Help
If your brother is open to it, encourage him to seek help from a mental health professional, counselor, or support group. There are many caring mental health professionals with specific expertise in supporting the LGBTQI+ community.
If he’s already in treatment, encourage him to continue and praise his efforts.
4. Help Him Build a Support Network
Encourage your brother to connect with supportive friends, family, or groups. Having a solid support network can be crucial for someone struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse.
5. Encourage Him to Find LGBTQI+ Support
Your brother is not alone; there are many who can relate to his struggles. If he hasn’t already, it will certainly benefit him to reach out to resource groups specific to the LGBTQI+ community. Groups like The Trevor Project or local LGBTQI+ organizations have experience dealing with the unique challenges faced by people in these communities. It’s also just a great way for him to find more friends!
6. Take Care of Yourself
Supporting someone with depression and substance abuse can be emotionally draining. Make sure you’re also taking care of your own mental health. Seek professional support if you need it, and ensure you have your own outlets for stress.
7. Have Patience
Remember that change is difficult and often slow, particularly when it comes to mental health and addiction. Be patient and provide consistent support.
8. Know What to Do in Case of Emergency
If your brother’s life is truly in danger, either from substance abuse or suicidal thoughts, don’t hesitate to seek immediate help. Your brother can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 if he’s experiencing suicidal feelings or emotional distress. In case of a real emergency, either of you can call 911.
I’m sending your brother wishes for complete healing and well-being! And give yourself credit for being a source of support and unconditional love — it makes a big difference.