Love is Love. Equality Matters. Love is Free. We are all the same inside. -- We’ve all heard these slogans, and on days which are associated with LGBTQ+ causes, we share & advocate for them as well, but have we ever really thought on the realities that individuals in this community face almost daily especially when it comes to their Mental Health?
Members of the LGBTQ+ community have Mental Health just like any of us do, but very often they face additional challenges when it comes to their wellbeing and even in getting help/ support due to the prevailing discrimination, stigma, fear of persecution, lack of acceptance and prejudices even today. By talking about these issues, we can raise awareness to ensure that anyone who is struggling doesn’t feel alone and increase acceptance within the broader community. This article will explore the various Mental Health challenges those in the LGBTQ+ community face and what we can do to be better allies for them.
We need to raise awareness & support resources for LGBTQ+ communities & their Mental Health as that can help to counter the prevailing stigma, intense prejudice, discrimination & violence they face which can take a toll on their emotional health and wellbeing. Every individual has a right to be accepted and respected for who they are and for their identity. The discrimination this community faces can make them feel further alienated and alone. Often, they also have a harder time getting support, or hesitate to do so in fear of being discriminated. Some also reported experiencing stigma and discrimination when accessing health services, leading some to forego treatment altogether, which can also hamper their Mental Health. Furthermore, compared to heterosexual individuals, LGBTQ+ youth are twice as likely to report bullying, all of which contributes to their Mental Health challenges and distress.
While Mental Health concerns don’t discriminate & affect LGBTQ+ individuals as they do to others, the risk of concerns like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, abuse, trauma, substance abuse, PTSD & suicidal ideation/ attempts have been observed to be at higher rates amongst the community. Some statistics suggest that members of the LGBTQ+ community are twice as likely than heterosexual individuals to experience a Mental Health disorder. Additionally, many LGBTQ+ people have experienced trauma and/or discrimination which increases their chances of having related mental health issues. Suicide attempts are 3 times more common amongst bisexual individuals than straight individuals while sexual minorities also have a greater risk of substance use disorders than straight individuals. LGBTQ+ individuals are one of the most targeted groups of hate crimes, contributing significantly to trauma, PTSD or worse, pushing them to struggle in silence.
Each person in the LGBTQ+ community faces unique circumstances that impact their Mental Health and we know that discrimination, societal stigma, bullying and violence can negatively impact overall wellness. Having supportive friends, communities, family members, educational systems, and policies can all be protective factors, issues like rejection, isolation, bullying, lack of acceptance for who they are, discrimination & safety issues can all make it more difficult to feel safe & supported and this become risk factors for them. All this results in Mental Health issues & often accounts for the higher rates of Mental Health conditions as well. Figuring out who you are and building our identity is hard for everyone, but for those who identify as LGBTQ+ it sometimes also mean this dreadful fear/ realisation that they won't be supported by their loved ones or be accepted for who they truly are. Such discrimination from the people they love is very harmful, and negatively impacts their Mental Health. When it comes to Mental Health, there is already so much stigma prevalent, but as someone in the LGBTQ+ community, facing additional stigma relating to their identity and orientation can make it even more challenging.
The Covid-19 pandemic further increased challenges for the members of the LGBTQ+ community in several ways. The physical distancing, economic strain, housing instability, lack of access to support, risk of partner/ domestic abuse, being stuck in unsupportive/ undesirable homes & disruption in healthcare services are some of the challenges which have added to their Mental Health distress through the pandemic. Many found themselves living with unsupportive families or those who did not know about their LGBTQ+ identities which further pushed them into suffering in silence with untreated Mental Health conditions. Changes in employment conditions which often contributed to less healthcare coverage, being cut off from positive social interactions, changes in household responsibility, fear of getting sick, increased violence portrayed in the media have also been some factors leading to increased distress. They also faced challenges when it came to accessing support services/ groups, interruptions and/or delays in gender-affirming healthcare, all which made the existing impact of the pandemic even worse for them.
We often wonder what we can do to support someone we know who identifies as LGBTQ+ and is having a struggle with their Mental Health, but we may hold back out of our own hesitation or just not knowing what to do. It is important to know that we can all do our bit. Active listening can be a good place to start - we can ask how we can help them, check in on them, learn more about what they are going through and give them a safe & non-judgemental space to share their experience, stories and struggles. Show acceptance and respect through words, actions and by respecting their pronouns, It can also help to lean in and be prepared for hard conversations, asking open questions and validating their feelings. More often than not, we may not know what to say to make it better but letting someone know you care can be significant support for them to feel validated, seen, heard and can help them see they are not alone. When trying to help them, instead of making assumptions, it can help to ask them what would feel supportive to them right now. Know that support can come in many different forms, from being there, to listening to each other with kindness to even accompanying someone to an appointment with a Mental Health professional. We can also learn more about Mental Health & share that knowledge so that we can truly end the stigma. It can really help if we are open to trying to understand and learn what someone may be going through, show up when you say you will and connect them further professional resources, helplines and support groups based on what they want. Lastly, educating ourselves on support services, resources and how to be a good ally can also be a great step in supporting them. You don’t have to be an expert to help someone you are concerned about - Showing we care can go a long way!
Just like everyone else, members of the LGBTQ+ community too face Mental Health challenges but often experience even more hurdles when it comes to caring for their Mental Health and wellbeing and being able to reach out for help owing to stigma & prejudices that exist even today. Awareness is the first step to making change - and that can happen when we start normalising these conversations. Let’s take that step towards making the change today.
Written by: Vedica Podar
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