A spotlight on LGBTQ+ Mental Health
For the second week of LGBTQ+ History Month, we’re putting a spotlight on mental health and wellbeing.
LGBTQ+ communities have a complex history with mental health and social stigma, with many significant LGBTQ+ people of the past famously struggling with mental illness. Alan Turing and Virginia Woolf both died by suicide; Oscar Wilde suffered from periods of depression after his imprisonment for “gross indecency” (essentially for having had sex with men). Largely, these people suffered mentally because of persecution by society and even by the justice system, simply for being gay.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, homosexuality was widely considered a mental illness. You might be familiar with the idea of ‘gay cures’ or conversion therapy - practices which still exist today, though thankfully no longer approved by medical professionals.
In 1968, homosexuality was listed as a mental illness in the DSM-II (the American mental illness classification) and wasn’t unlisted until 1987. The World Health Organisation classified homosexuality as a mental illness until 1992. For trans people, there is an ongoing debate about how they are classified - gender dysphoria (emotional distress caused by the feeling that your body does not match your gender identity) and Gender Identity Disorder are considered mental health conditions even now, though many trans people feel this should not be the case.
Now that we live in a world that is far more friendly to LGBTQ+ people (though still with a long way to go), we have some research and understanding of how mental illness impacts LGBTQ+ communities. We now know that there are very high rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm and substance abuse amongst LGBTQ+ people - but why?
Many gay, bisexual and queer people have stated that they suffer from anxiety, resulting from fears about being seen with their partner in public or their appearance being perceived as ‘gay’, and being a target of violence because of it. Some LGBTQ+ people - about half of lesbian and bisexual women particularly - feel that healthcare professionals don’t understand them or provide appropriate care. 25% of trans people, when they begin to transition, are made to use an incorrect toilet at work, or no toilet at all. This is one of many examples of ways that LGBTQ+ people are singled out and excluded in the workplace. LGBTQ+ young people report high rates of verbal and physical abuse at school, and feeling like they can’t be themselves as a result. All of this compounds and means that LGBTQ+ people are more likely than their cisgender/heterosexual peers to feel unsafe, misunderstood, lonely, fearful and hopeless.
One mental health study showed that 88% of trans people had experiences with depression, and 84% had considered suicide. 52% of LGBTQ+ people overall have experienced depression, compared to 25% of cisgender/heterosexual people. LGBTQ+ people are at higher risk of substance dependence and alcohol addiction. Bisexual people are the most likely group to struggle with depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Some HIV drugs can also have a negative impact on mental health, which many LGBTQ+ people are not aware of.
However, there is plenty of help and support. You can find LGBTQ+-specific helplines, support groups and charities, all dedicated to making the lives of LGBTQ+ people better and building a stronger community. Here at UCASU, we have our LGBTQ+ liberation groups on each campus, which you can join anytime. Get in touch with VP Kent, Riley Clowes, on [email protected] for more information. If you feel that you might need mental health support, or would like to learn more about LGBTQ+ mental health, check out some of the resources below:
The Albert Kennedy Trust
An LGBTQ+ youth homelessness charity with information and resources around emergency care, housing and mentoring
An LGBTQ+ helpline available by phone or online chat every single day
A directory of LGBTQ+ friendly therapists and mental health professionals
An online support service and resource for LGBTQ+ people
Offers counselling and support to LGBTQ+ people
The Beaumount Society
A close-knit community of trans people across the UK
Offers support groups and resources for LGBTQ+ Muslim people
A charity educating people about gender diversity and trans rights
All of the facts and statistics from this post have come from the following sources:
Rethink Mental Illness LGBTQ+ factsheet https://www.rethink.org/resources/l/lgbtplus-mental-health-factsheet
Mental Health Foundation statistics
BBC’s ‘Being the butt of gay jokes made me ill’
NHS ‘Mental health issues if you are gay, lesbian or bisexual’
Stonewall racism research
Stonewall’s ‘LGBT in Britain: Hate Crime and Discrimination’ report