14-20 May is Mental Health Awareness Week. Here, Stonewall's Senior Community Fundraising Officer Milly Sullivan talks openly and honestly about her experiences of mental health as an LGBT person.
Just over 10 years ago, I came home from a hospital for adolescents and adults requiring care for severe psychiatric illnesses. I’d been there for 3 months. I was 17 and had anorexia. At this time, I thought all hope was lost. My self-worth was at an all-time low, my future not even a consideration.
I would not learn the acronym LGBT until much older.
During my teenage years, I became increasingly aware of my feeling of being different from my friends. I had developed crushes on female friends from an early age but was perhaps beginning to realise this was more an integral part of who I was. I hid it and ran away from it. Struggling with my sexuality led to the beginning of an eating disorder that would quickly consume me.
It wasn’t necessarily about the weight really. It was about taking control of something. We can’t control who we are, and we can’t control who we love. But I could control my weight.
As a young person at secondary school, I didn’t have any LGBT role models.
As a young person at secondary school, I didn’t have any LGBT role models. I didn’t know anyone else who was lesbian, gay, bi or trans. Not in my year group, not in the year above and none of the school staff, although I’m sure they were always there. We never really learnt about same-sex relationships and I would not learn the acronym LGBT until much older. I intrinsically linked being gay with something shameful and something I didn’t want to be.
Fortunately, I got through this unbearably bleak time, but it still took me another 6 years or so to finally be honest with myself and accept who I am. I feel very privileged that friends and family have been nothing but supportive, and despite there still being ongoing difficulties with my mental health, I can now say I am much happier. I am the real me.
The work that LGBT organisations like Stonewall do in the fight for equality is vital.
The work that LGBT organisations like Stonewall do in the fight for equality is vital. My experience with mental health is certainly not a singular one, but it also shouldn’t be taken as being representative.
The LGBT community is dynamic and diverse, so we need to be aware of and centre the specific experiences of mental health that minority groups within our community will have based on their intersecting identities. It’s important we listen to and amplify the stories of LGBT people who are black, Asian or minority ethnic, disabled, older, or of faith about their mental health to learn about experiences that can often be overlooked.
The LGBT community is dynamic and diverse.
Come Out For LGBT is about more than just pressing a ‘like’ button on social media. It’s about standing together and showing solidarity in the face of discrimination. We need role models and allies.
In my case, I strongly believe that the problems I have faced with my mental health as an adult derive from years of suppressing my sexuality as a young person. If I’d had visible role models and more support at school, things might have been very different now.
Now is the time to act.
With an everchanging landscape, now is the time to act. However big or small that action might be. Whether at school, college, university, in your organisation, your community centre or your place of worship, let all LGBT people know they’re not alone and show them that you fully support who they are.