College is stressful. With endless amounts of homework, back-to-back exams, and getting accustomed to your new living situation, those who experience anxiety or live with an anxiety disorder can feel enormous amounts of pressure. In a mental health survey conducted by Her Campus in 2019*, 88% of Her Campus readers reported that anxiety has affected their ability to carry on with their daily lives. And for LGBTQ+ college students — which represented 32% of those who responded to our mental health survey — the college experience can be even more overwhelming with worries of not being accepted. If you identify as LGBTQ+, it’s important to find the right support on campus to help you cope.
To help, we spoke with Tanekwah Hinds, the Racial Justice Community Advocate at ACLU Massachusetts and former Women's Health Program Coordinator at Fenway Health, a community health care organization that focuses on helping LGBTQ+ and other underserved communities. Hinds recognizes that diversity centers on campus aren't always fully-staffed and resourced, saying that positions aren't "always full-time" and that staff members "aren't always given the support and resources they need." Finding the help you need can seem daunting and challenging, but there are so many ways to find that support as an LGBTQ+ student on campus. Here are four tips for gaining a sense of community and leaning on others through your anxious times.
- Join an on-campus LGBTQ+ organization, and if there isn’t one, create one
“Therapy is great, but it can be hard if [your counselor] isn’t reflective of your identity and has a hard time understanding your experience,” Hinds explains. Instead, join an LGBTQ+ organization on campus to connect with individuals who do understand your experience. You may be able to find solace in your peers and open up to them about your struggles. Chances are, they can understand what you are going through, and will be able to provide you with advice on how they cope with their anxiety. Plus, they can recommend resources that they may have utilized themselves.
In cases where your university doesn’t have such organizations, fill the need and create one yourself. You may find that others who were in a similar situation as you and longing for a way to connect with others will be extremely appreciative. Plus, sometimes just being there for and comforting others can help you with your struggles.
- Find a hobby that you're passionate about
If an LGBTQ+ organization isn’t available on campus, Hinds recommends looking to other groups to find support. “Finding a hobby on or off-campus can be really important,” she tells Her Campus.
Whether it’s an a cappella group or intramural sports club, find an organization that you’re passionate about — and chances are, you’ll find someone who can be part of your ongoing support system in college. Devoting time to a hobby can also be a great way for you to escape (in a healthy way) and connect with other students that share the same interests as you.
- Reach out to someone who resembles your identity
If you’re looking for someone to talk to, keep an eye out for a mentor that reflects your interests and identity. According to Hinds, it can be intimidating to reach out to someone who could be a potential mentor or confidant, but in the end, it can be beneficial for both of you.
She tells Her Campus, “It can be hard to think about: 'How do I talk to this important person or professor with a big title with a shared identity?' It takes courage to reach out to someone you see who resembles your identity, especially if that person makes themselves available. But I think that it can be a point of bonding or empowerment for both sides.”
- Educate your peers and allies about the community
“Similar to finding a mentor who can relate to your identity, Hinds says educating others (and even yourself) about the LGBTQ+ community can help you find a sense of community and support. For example, showing others how to become a better ally to individuals in the LGBTQ+ community — or even teaching someone how to understand (and not assume!) a person’s pronouns — can make a huge difference.”
“Just being there and present for folks is really important,” Hinds explains. “Education about the community and how you can support is important as well.”
Tanekwah Hinds, Racial Justice Community Advocate for the ACLU of Massachusetts
*This article was originally published as part of Her Campus's 'Anxiety on Campus: Feeling Seen & Speaking Out', a project dedicated to highlighting mental health and anxiety on campus.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
The information in this article does not intend to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult a trained mental health professional before making any decision regarding treatment.