Mental Health Is A Queer Issue

Around one third of LGBT people have mental health needs, with half having had suicidal thoughts. Yet over a quarter have never accessed a mental health service, and most mental health agencies fail to monitor the sexual orientation of their service users. This makes it difficult for these agencies to assess the needs of the LGBT community and to tailor their services to meet these needs.
Studies suggest that the stress of dealing with homophobia or transphobia plays a major role in precipitating depression or mental breakdowns in many LGBT people.There is a major mis-match between the mental health needs of LGBT people and the provision of mental health services to them.For starters, the government and other agencies need to do more to tackle the homophobia and transphobia that pushes many LGBT people into mental ill-health.
These pressures on LGBTs include: difficulties in coming to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity and the stress of not being open about it; rejection by family and friends; teasing and bullying at school; harassment and discrimination at work; hate crime; ostracism and hostility by neighbours; and, if the person has a faith, being cast out by their church, temple, synagogue or mosque. In addition, there are general factors like relationship problems and domestic violence, and peer pressure to get drunk and use recreational drugs. Indeed, chemical abuse is much higher among LGBTs than in the general population.There is no shame in people acknowledging mental health difficulties and seeking support. Candour is a precondition for treatment and recovery.

I have suffered from periodic bouts of severe depression, on account of the deluge of homophobic hate mail, death threats and violent assaults that I have suffered for the last 30 years. I’ve had bricks through my windows, a bullet through the door and three arson attacks on my flat. On hundreds of different occasions, I have been beaten up by homophobic yobs and right-wing extremists. Nearly all my teeth are chipped and cracked. Being beaten unconscious by President Mugabe’s bodyguards and a bashing by neo-Nazis in Moscow has left me with minor brain and eye damage.

Thankfully, I’ve got a network of loyal, supportive friends who have helped see me through these dark moments. Not everyone has such wonderful friends, and sometimes friends are not enough. That is why we need more LGBT-friendly and accessible mental health services – services attuned and responsive to the particular needs of LGBT people.

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A contribution by Peter Tatchell for PsychLiverpool.

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