Hofstra conference focuses on mental health in LGBTQ community

When Jason Hansana-Cofield dealt with bouts of irritability and isolation connected to PTSD from his time in the military, his child, Janique “Jay” Cofield, could sense something pulling them apart.

Splitting time between the Shinnecock reservation and California growing up, Jay Cofield often had emotional turmoil like their father.

It would take separate therapy, as well as physical and emotional distance between the two before Jay Cofield and Jason Hansana-Cofield, executive director of tribal operations at the Shinnecock Nation, would see the connection between their separate emotional pain — each other.

The two shared their story of a family overcoming the devastating toll of post-traumatic stress and other emotional trauma Thursday at a Hofstra University conference focused on mental health and disability in people of color and within the LGBTQIA community. Among the panels at the “In My Mind Conference” were those focused on raising a transgender child in a trauma-filled environment, mental health crisis response and substance abuse and intervention.

Jay Cofield, who self-identifies as two-spirit — a Native American concept for people who describe themselves as sometimes having both feminine and masculine attributes — recalled growing up with a father suffering from PTSD.

“I’ve seen versions of him disconnected, not only from himself and the family, but sometimes it looked like he was disconnected from the world,” said Cofield, 31, who now lives in Boston. 

In recent years though, father and child have gotten closer by opening up about their shared mental health challenges.

“He’s the only person that I feel the safest to speak to about it with,” Cofield said. “Because when we do talk, I get that feeling of home.”

The event came amid some research that indicates lesbian, gay and bisexual adults are more likely to experience mental health ailments than those who are straight, according to research by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

For example, nearly 10% of straight women experienced a major depressive episode over the past year, according to a survey by the agency.

More than 25% of bisexual women had a major depressive episode, the survey found.

Another speaker at the conference, Mark Travis Rivera, who has cerebral palsy and deals with his own mental health challenges, said those in attendance with emotional trauma were not alone.

“There is so much beauty and being who you are,” he said. “And despite all the bigotry and the hatred and the backlash, that LGBT+ people … are experiencing, it is possible, and it is imperative that we love on ourselves and love each other.”

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