LGBTQ and Mental Health

Imagine waking up one morning to realize you don’t fit in. Everything that you’ve been told about yourself just doesn’t seem to fit the box. You try talking to you parents, and the just brush it off, friends mock you for being different and you suddenly start feeling cheated of a reality that claimed to be fair and equal… but for who?

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Who are the LGBTQ community

The LGBT community is a community bound together by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities who derive identities different from the conventional heterosexual relationships and gender identities predominantly known in society. They fight battles of recognition, acceptance, moral dilemmas and internal and external conflicts, with the simple aim of living a “normal” life.

The LGBTQIA++ community in India lives life in the shadows of darkness, bound by their internal and external conflicts. We have all heard of the stigma that comes in associating with the community whether as a member or as a supporter. But, how far do people go to understand the nuances of family dynamics that come due to the social prejudices, the oppressive legalities and disruptive protective services and their potentially devastating impact of those from the community.

One not one struggles with their own internal reality and the harsh cruelty of the way the world around them is. Their issues start young, and sometimes go unaddressed for the course of their lifetime. The lack of education, backed by facts and the distinct understanding of the subtle differences between sex and gender often lead to confusion and further dysphoria within those experiencing a conflict within themselves, apart from the differences pointed out, in the harshest way possible for millions across the globe.

The facts

- Adults of the LGBTQ community are more than twice as likely than heterosexual adults to experience a mental health condition.

- The social stigma, exclusion and aversive behaviour puts them at a higher risk than the general population for suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts

- It is important to know that the higher incidence of mental health issues in the LGBTQ+ community is not a singular result of a crisis of identity of their gender or sexual preferences and inclinations. It is solely because of a world that continues to deny their differences, vilifies their existence and makes it really hard to live a normal life that doesn’t fit in their version of an expected norm.

- Finding an LGBT therapist is as rare as finding a needle in the haystack, social dilemmas and moral policing in a world like ours makes it difficult to access mental health, forget those that are specifically directed towards gay affirmative therapy.

The challenges…

Research on the community shows in devastating numbers, how they suffer a great deal worse when it comes to their mental health. The experience of discrimination, oppression and prejudice becomes far too real, with their vivid experiences of bullying and rejection. What first starts at home, soon becomes a common phenomenon among peers and co-workers. Employment becomes scarce, and social spaces are intimidating. Subtle and indirect workplace discrimination, limits them from exploring their capabilities. Unfortunately, the buck doesn’t stop there, those from the community also experience denial of their basic rights, including medical care, which then has an impact directly on their quality of life.

These inexplicable condemnations lead to an ongoing erosion of self-worth. The lack of acceptance and the lacuna in the opportunities for a non-judgemental mental space lead them to experience traumatic events that can scar them for life. Leaving them feeling alienated, and unwanted. While some indulge in unhealthy risk-taking behaviour or even suicide, reports suggest that LGBT persons are thrice as likely to suffer from depression or anxiety disorders.

It doesn’t end here…

- Fear of being “outed” and anxiety about their own identity, acceptance, safety, etc. lead them to have significant disturbances along with mood related issues.

- A lower sense of self, developed within LGBT people due to the long-term stress related to their sexual orientation or gender identity often leads them to internalize and comprehend their differences as negative attributes about themselves.

- These attributes soon become beliefs that can fester and develop into two struggles: shame about who they are and what they feel, and guilt about what they do in turn affecting their self-esteem and self-confidence.

- What remains unfortunate is the lack of access to quality help, resources and support that may lead to greater unsafe behaviour.

What can we do to help?

Finding meaningful support in life has always been important to a person’s mental health and overall well-being. The devastating numbers with the LGBTQ community have brought to light some if not all the challenges they face, bringing to the forefront alternative means for people to connect, share and heal in meaningful ways within the community. Recreational groups, activities and support groups have shown up valiantly with the changing political stance in the Indian scenario.

Not only do those from the community experience stigmatized prejudice based on their sexual and/or gender identity but also the immense magnitude of the stigma associated with mental illness. LGBTQ-inclusive therapists help in confronting these challenges by identifying the associated mental health symptoms acting as a safe, supportive, educative spaces, that advocate and promote healthcare and information on healthy living. They help people connect, break through their barriers to health, recover and strengthen their innate resilience.

How to cope?

Therapy can help in numerous ways. Online counselling and affirmative therapists maintain utmost confidentiality, presenting a non-judgemental space for clients of the community to identify and effectively to deal with issues such as-

- Difficulty accepting your sexual orientation

- Low self-esteem and self-confidence due to seclusion and isolation

- Depression, anxiety or any other clinical disorders

- Suicidal thoughts, tendencies and the impending fear of worthlessness

- Hostility and rejection

Community building along with the presence of affirmative counselling have become two key resources for the development of better mental health for LGBTQ+ people. Affirming their lives, accepting them unconditionally and encouraging clients to discover and accept themselves, and see them as equals as they are helping them develop their own identify and find a safe and secure space in the big bad world. Helping them to challenge their intrinsic beliefs, LGBTQ therapists help them emerge from the grip of the hostile pressures of societal dysfunction. They work to develop a healthier environment as LGBT counselling understands and accepts that those from the community quite often experience themselves fighting a double stigma.

Perks of therapy for the community…

Early intervention doubled up with comprehensive treatment are the starters to a better and healthier life. It is known and understood that the stigma that prevails in society still holds behind people who are a part of the LGBTQ community, hence online platforms with affirmative therapists have become an essential in every country. Fortunately, times are changing to understand the implications of living with a mental health condition and measures are being taken to rectify the damage done. Government initiatives that legalise the existence of the gay community, helping them organize and arrange cruelty free pride parades are an inclusive step, where people from the LGBT community find a safe space to share their associations and voice the injustice done to them. Not only do they find a platform to voice themselves but also a shared space that allows them to know that they are not alone.

Gay affirmative therapists are breaking barriers that once held the community behind to struggle alone in silence. Online therapy and anonymous therapists in India are providing safe spaces for individuals to come share their lives and work on healing themselves to a better tomorrow.

Challenging the systematic oppression at all levels isn’t going to be easy but would definitely be an achievable dream as we continue to recognize the strength and courage required for people of the LGBTQ community to stand up in the face of discrimination. They can’t stand alone in a world that without the support of fulfilling community, affirmative therapists, online counselling and offline platforms that support, encourage and acknowledge the enduring capacity of people to heal from the wounds of prejudice. A safe space is all one needs to find the solace they’ve been seeking, for years on end.

It is rightly said, “If we believe in it… change is undoubtedly possible!”

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