Mental health can affect anyone, on any day of the year, but today is World Mental Health Day.
So I want to talk about mental health, particularly LGBT people’s mental health. Research shows that LGBT communities are often more likely to experience mental health struggles, with Stonewall’s 2018 Health report finding that half of LGBT people (52 per cent) said that they’ve experienced depression in the last year, and that figure rises to 62 per cent when talking specifically about BAME LGBT people.
This staggeringly high percentage just goes to show how vital the work that LGBT organisations do is.
As a teenager, I grew up in a small working-class town in the Midlands, where sexuality was never talked about. I remember feeling very different to the people around me, which was heightened in sex-ed classes or when I was around the girls in my class who I struggled to relate to.
I knew that I was attracted to people of the same sex, but I didn’t have the language to express it. There were few, if any, LGBT role models within my Catholic community. Eventually, this lack of visibility meant that I equated being LGBT with being outside of the norm and something about myself that I should hide.
Experiencing a consistent negativity or silence around a key part of who you are has a huge impact.
Experiencing a consistent negativity or silence around a key part of who you are has a huge impact. For a long time, I associated being a lesbian with shame, with something that shouldn’t be named.
This had a serious impact on my sense of worth and eventually on my mental health. When I was 15, I was outed to those closest to me and had to face up to my sexuality before I was even ready to deal with it myself. Like a lot of people, I think my initial response was denial, and it was a long time before I truly embraced being queer. I received mixed reactions from family & friends, but the negative comments still stick firmly in my mind today.
“It’s my fault that this has happened”
“What is everyone else going to think”
“How are you going to live a normal life”
We’re often told that coming out comes with a unanimous sense of relief and acceptance. But, for me there was also a lot of guilt for not meeting other people’s expectations of who I should be and hearing hurtful comments from others. This started off what became a long battle with anxiety and depression. If other people were struggling to accept who I was, then how could I? I stopped taking care of myself and started deteriorating – I would drink too much and think of anything that went wrong as being ‘what I deserved’.
Today, I embrace who I am with pride, and my mental health is more stable than it’s ever been.
Luckily, through help and support, I was able to move past those times and understand what was happening. Today, I embrace who I am with pride, and my mental health is more stable than it’s ever been. I’ve come to terms with the fact that being attracted to women doesn’t mean that I can’t be successful, happy or loved. I’m proud to be a queer woman and it’s a huge part of who I am.
We know that LGBT people in particular struggle with their mental health.
Of course, my experience is just one person’s experience. LGBT communities are diverse, and everyone has their own story to tell. But we know that LGBT people in particular struggle with their mental health. Stonewall’s report found that 72 per cent of bi women reported experiencing depression in the last year, as well as 56 per cent of bi men. And almost half of trans people (46 per cent) and 31 per cent of LGB people had thought about taking their own life. This isn’t how it should be.
It’s fantastic that from Sept 2020 all English secondary schools will be introducing LGBT-inclusive Relationships and Sex Education. This will make a massive difference to lots of young LGBT people – I know it would have done for me.
So, this World Mental Health Day, reach out to a friend if you think they might be struggling. There’s lots of places that you can go for support, and you can find more information on our help and advice pages. The LGBT Switchboard also offers a helpline for any LGBT person struggling.