Editorial Roundup: South Dakota

Yankton Press & Dakotan. May 23, 2022.

Editorial: Mental Health And The LGBTQ Issue

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a designation that seeks to do just that: to make more people take a harder look at the issue of mental health in their world, their community and in their own lives. And it can be a difficult issue for some people to face or acknowledge.

The Press & Dakotan has thus far published two stories in a three-part series, running on Saturdays, related to the issue. To this point, the first two stories have offered, arguably, major contrasts in the breadth of the mental health topic. The first story, published May 7, dealt with how COVID-19 has impacted mental health in people of all ages. In the last two years, this has been a nearly universal topic, given the disruption created by the pandemic. By contrast, last Saturday’s story examined mental health issues being seen in South Dakota (and elsewhere) by people in the LGBTQ community. In a sense, this was quite different from the first story in that it focused on a much smaller segment of the population and delved into what is, more broadly, a controversial subject.

That makes the latter the more difficult issue to discuss, for various reasons.

That also makes it easier to dismiss the issue, which some people unknowingly do — and some actually aggravate it.

The story referred to a HelpAdvisor study done earlier this year that found South Dakota leading the nation in the percentage of LGBTQ residents reporting feelings of depression in the two weeks prior to the survey. Using U.S. Census statistics, it was determined that 87.3%, or an estimated 38,162, of respondents said they had felt feelings of depression. This was far above the national average of 62.7%.

“Some of the difficulties is folks in the LGBTQ community sometimes feel a little isolated anyway, and in rural areas, they feel even more isolated — and with COVID, even more isolated,” noted Dr. David Dracy, clinical psychologist with Yankton’s Lewis & Clark Behavioral Health Services, in Saturday’s Press & Dakotan. “Then we are firmly in the Bible Belt area, too, and there’s still some religious beliefs that make it difficult for individuals of the LGBTQ community.”

One of the more striking statements in the story was an observation by Dr. Myeshia Price, a senior research scientist at The Trevor Project, noting that many of these people feel depressed because they believe their own government is working against them.

For instance, during the recent South Dakota legislative session, several bills were introduced targeting LGBTQ — particularly transgender, or trans — people. Most conspicuous was the heated debate and ultimate passage of Senate Bill 46, which bars trans girls from competing in female sports at the high school level. As we noted at the time, the issue is virtually nonexistent in the state, and the South Dakota High School Activities Association already had an effective policy in place to deal with it. Nevertheless, the bill was passed with great fanfare and was even featured in national commercials by Gov. Kristi Noem.

“The record number of anti-LGBTQ legislation — and anti-trans bills in particular — continue to take a toll on the mental health of these young people,” Price said.

But that toll is not a priority for the architects of such legislation (who likely were not from this state) and those who pushed it as a means to a political end.

History is filled with examples of lawmakers and political movements trying to appeal to majorities by curbing or even persecuting minorities. These laws may be harsh and hurtful, but since they do not directly affect most people, the laws are judged by their political merits and not their personal fallout.

And perhaps that’s a lesson more people can see during this awareness month. Understanding COVID’s impact is fairly easy, since we all likely faced it to some degree, but understanding the issues with the LGBTQ community demands more empathy by opening our minds and hearts to others.