Being LGBTIQ+ does not mean a person will have mental health problems, however experiences of discrimination, social disadvantage and social exclusion increase the risk to a person’s mental health and wellbeing.
The experiences that LGBTIQ+ people face mean they are more likely to suffer from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and alcohol and drug misuse than those who are heterosexual.
The LGBTIQ+ rights charity, Stonewall, found in a recent study that half of LGBTIQ+ people had experienced depression in the previous year, and three in five had experienced anxiety. One in eight LGBTIQ+ people aged 18-24 had attempted to end their life, and almost half of trans people had thought about taking their own life.
Discrimination and Bullying
Experiences of homophobia, transphobia, stigma, rejection, hate crimes, bullying and social isolation are common. In the 2018, National LGBT survey by the Government Equalities Office, 40% of the 108,100 respondents reported a negative incident in the previous 12 months, because of their sexual orientation. These incidents can take place anywhere, including school, the workplace and in public settings however did not include incidents taking place in the home, so the true number is likely to be considerably higher. Stonewall found that 91% of people did not report these incidents, in part due to the belief that they would not be taken seriously, or that nothing would be done about them.
Embracing and celebrating their identity as an LGBTIQ+ person, has a positive impact on people’s mental health. It can help things like confidence, resilience, relationships with friends and family, and provide a sense of belonging and of self-acceptance.
‘Coming out’ can be an exciting and liberating experience but can also involve anxiety, fear, risk of rejection and even threat of violence. Many LGBTIQ+ teens experience a negative reaction from their parents when they come out and some experience physical abuse and can even find themselves thrown out of their homes.
The Youth Commission reports a disproportionate percentage of homeless youth are LGBTIQ+ (26%) and rejection by family members is the primary cause (69%). LGBTIQ+ people usually have to ‘come out’ many times over their life to different people in different circumstances, which can be a triggering and isolating experience.
Stigma in Medicine
The Equality Act 2010 states that no service provider or employer may discriminate against anyone because they are ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, gender-fluid or non-binary’. However, the 2018 LGBT In Britain – Health Care report, highlights some of the barriers LGBTIQ+ people still face when accessing healthcare.
One in four respondents reported experiencing discrimination or negative remarks from health care professionals and 14% reported that fear of discrimination actually discouraged them from seeking medical help. 19% have not disclosed their sexual orientation to their health care provider at all, for fear of intrusive questioning, curiosity or unequal treatment, and this percentage rises to 29% for bisexual women and 40% for bisexual men.
It is not surprising that people worry about stigma in the medical field, given that homosexuality was listed by the World Health Organisation as a mental illness until as late as 1990. Furthermore, one of the methods of diagnosing mental illness until recently listed gender identity disorders as a mental health disorder. Many respondents to the Stonewall survey described how they fear professionals will see their sexuality as the cause of their mental health problems.
Where to get help
If you are suffering with your mental health, it is important to seek help. Your GP should be your first point of call. The government has introduced the NHS Constitution which says that we all have the right ‘not to be unlawfully discriminated against in the provision of NHS services’. This includes sexual orientation and gender reassignment.
There are also a range of services available specifically for the LGBTIQ+ community, which include free and low-cost counselling and helplines. Please refer to our useful resources below.