Over the last few years there has been mounting evidence supporting the likelihood of poor mental health within the LGBTQ+ community. We examine the different factors that might potentially play a part in this situation.

 

Definition of LGBTQ+

LGBTQ+ is an acronym to describe a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The letters stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer. The + sign signifies the desire to be inclusive and represents the additional letters of QIP2SAA. These letters stand for Questioning, Intersex,Pansexual, two-spirit (2S), Androgynous and Asexual.[1]

 

Statistics from the LGBTQ+ community

A disproportionately high proportion of those with reported ‘poor’ mental health are from the LGBTQ+ community. Being LGBTQ+ does not in itself lead to mental health issues. However, those who associate as LGBTQ+ are more likely to face a mental health issue. In 2018, Stonewall, a UK based charity supporting the LGBTQ+ community, commissioned a survey focused on life in Britain for LGBTQ+ people. There were 5,000 responses from England, Scotland and Wales and some of the statistics relating to mental wellbeing were startling.

  • More than half of those surveyed had suffered with depression (52%) and / or anxiety (60%) in the previous 12 months.
  • Mind reported the proportion of adults in England affected by depression and anxiety each year is 17%.
  • Almost half (46%) of trans people and a third (31%) of LGB people had thought about suicide during the previous 12 months. One in Eight (13% of LGBTQ+ community) aged 18-24 said they had attempted to take their own life.

 

In 2017 the UK Government launched a survey of over 108,000 LGBTQ+ people
  • 65% were happy with their life compared to 77% of the general population.
  • 40% had experienced a verbal or physical hate incident because they were LGBTQ+.
  • 80% of trans and 60% of LGB young people have self-harmed as a result of bullying and discrimination.
  • 66% had not held hands with their partner in public because they were scared of reactions they may face.
  • 24% had accessed mental health services in the previous 12 months. This rose to 35% for trans people and 37% for non-binary people.

 

Why do so many LGBTQ+ people struggle with their mental health?

 

Being LGBTQ+ and having poor mental health does not mean the two are correlated. There could be many reasons why your mental health is suffering. There may not be one incident or one person triggering your poor mental health. If there are some triggers relating to your LGBTQ+ identity, it can be quite damaging. It can feel as if you yourself and your environment are the very things that are causing you torment.

 

Hate Crime

These crimes are committed against a person based on race, gender, religion, sexuality or disability. The LGBTQ+ community are more likely to experience verbal or physical abuse than those who are heterosexual.

Discrimination

This is the unjust treatment of someone based on gender, age, race or sexual orientation. This behaviour can be direct or indirect and can be both positive or negative. In 2018 the stonewall assessment reported LGBTQ+ members faced discrimination when:

  • renting a house (10%)
  • going to a sporting event (10%)
  • going to a restaurant, bar or nightclub (17%)
  • place of worship (28%)
  • in a healthcare environment (23%)
Bullying

Almost half of LGBTQ+ children reported being bullied at school with more than half witnessing a homophobic slur or harassment.

Community & Acceptance

Coming out to family or friends can risk rejection. ‘Coming out’ is not a one-off occurrence. It is something ​that has to be considered with every new friend, neighbour or work colleague you meet. It can be very liberating but it can also be difficult and have painful consequences. Feeling unaccepted and cut off from aspects of your world can increase insecurities, loneliness and unworthiness.

Impact on family

The wider family can also be impacted, for example children with LGBTQ+ parents may be bullied at school. Worrying about these impacts can affect a person’s mental health.​

Loneliness

Statistically, older LGBTQ+ are more likely to be living on their own. They don’t always have family support and therefore are more likely to be impacted by loneliness.

Dating

Alongside the usual pitfalls of dating such as rejection, LGBTQ+ people may face additional difficulties. Within the LGBTQ+ community there can be pressure to conform to stereotypes. It can be difficult to identify those with a similar sexual orientation. In rural locations there may be no obvious meeting places so dating apps have to be used.

Authenticity

Due to the potential difficulties faced by LGBTQ+ members they often can not be themselves in all situations. They may often have to act straight in front of certain people or pretend they like certain things, e.g., football. There may be conflicts within their life, for example being gay and religious. This can create an imposter syndrome about their own identity. [2]

Internalised homophobia

This occurs when children are taught heterosexuality is the ‘normal and correct way to be’. Negative depictions of LGBTQ+ from family, friends, media & books can lead to negative messages which can cause mental distress. Without a good sense of personal worth including your sexual orientation, your mental health may suffer.

 

How can poor mental health linked to LGBTQ+ issues manifest?

As an LGBTQ+ person, poor mental health problems can take form in many ways. These can include, but are not limited to:

  • Denial of your sexual orientation
  • Attempts to change or hide your sexual orientation
  • Low self esteem and feelings you are not good enough
  • Obsessive thinking and / or compulsive behaviours
  • Addiction & substance abuse
  • Under or over achievement as a bid for acceptance
  • Negative body image
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-harming
  • Hatred for the LGBTQ+ community and demonstrating discriminatory behaviours
  • Attachment issues
  • Getting or remaining involved in abusive relationships
  • Being abusive, angry, bitterness and irritable towards others
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Increased fears and anxieties
  • Increased shame and defensiveness
  • Truancy or lack of interest in school or work
  • Destructive or none law-abiding behaviours
  • Unsafe sexual practices & multiple partners
  • Fear of intimacy
  • Lack of sexual drive or celibacy
  • Trauma
  • Suicidal ideation

 

How can you help to improve the mental health of an LGBTQ+ member?

 

Good mental wellbeing is different for everyone. What affects one person will differ in what affects another person. The same can be said for improving mental wellbeing. The approach is very individualistic, so experiment and try as many different things to identify what works for you.

 

As an LGBTQ+ Ally

Allies are important for all minority groups including LGBTQ+. As an ally you may not understand exactly what the person is going through therefore it is important to listen. It is important to be empathetic, non-judgemental and to give the person space to tell you how they feel. You could learn about their specific issues and support them in seeking help. If they want to join an LGBTQ+ club you could maybe join it with them.

As an LGBTQ+ Member

If you are facing any mental health problems it is important to seek out some help. Here are some tips that you may wish to consider trying:

  • Talking – it is always useful to talk to someone you trust. Often just sharing your experiences can make you feel better. If you don’t have anyone close to you that you can talk to try an LGBTQ+ charity or helpline.
  • Community– building a peer support network will be really helpful. You could find a local support group or a mentoring programme. You could try some volunteering or join a club or online network.
  • Self-Care– looking after yourself is so important. Think about your sleep patterns, diet and exercise.
  • Specialist support– you may need to receive additional support from a mental health professional. Speak to your GP or contact a local therapist to understand how they can help you.

I hope you have found this information helpful. Please share if you know of someone who would benefit from reading about this. Why not head over to our website for more information and useful downloads.

With warmest wishes

Tanya

 

[1] A description of each of the terms can be found here 

[2] Imposter syndrome is when a person doubts their own abilities and feels like a fraud.

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