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  • Writer's pictureDamian Kerlin

Mental Health & LGBTQ+

September is officially recognised as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month with September 10 designated as World Suicide Prevention Day. We know that LGBTQ+ people commonly face higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts — not because of who they are, but because of the discrimination and harassment they receive from society. LGBTQ+ youth are at particular risk, with recent data showing that 29% of transgender youth, 21% of gay and lesbian youth and 22% of bisexual youth have attempted suicide.

The individual can become lost in the community. There is no denying that together we have helped create transformative change in the lives of LGBTQ+ people across communities in the UK. We stand for the collective but when does that transpire to the individual?

We have all seen it. The friend who is reliant on alcohol. The colleague who is quiet, as they silence themselves to fit into the office workspace. As a community, we often ignore a myriad of problems such as abusive relationships with both alcohol and drugs. Mental health does not discriminate.

In every community in the UK, and around the world, LGBTQ+ people are still being abused, thrown out of their homes, and bullied in schools and workplaces. The institutions that should protect us – our governments, communities, faith institutions and families – too often stand silent, or actively harm us.

The government considers LGBTQ+ people to be at higher risk of suicide but no national data on LGBTQ+ suicides is kept. In 2018, the government acknowledged there was a higher prevalence of mental health issues among LGBTQ+ people than the general population in the UK and launched its LGBT Action Plan, "focused on reducing suicides amongst the LGBTQ+ population".

But, three years on, the plan has not begun.

And one year on from its "updated Suicide Prevention Strategy", the government is yet to start its "rapid evidence review" into LGBTQ+ suicide.

This has been accentuated during lockdown in the UK in the number of LGBTQ+ people seeking suicide-prevention support. Support group LGBT Hero reports 11,000 people have accessed its suicide-prevention web pages - up over 44% on the first three months of the year.

The main problem is that there is often the misconceptions that many people have. Queer people do not inherently struggle with mental health: we develop higher rates of mental health issues as a results of being mistreated but a society that does not attempt to understand us.

When you ask a LGBTQ+ person about their struggles with their identity, most will tell you not that they’ve hated themselves but that homophobic and transphobic pressure created by unsupportive environments, family, friends and religious groups made loving and accepting themselves an impossible task.

The issues is not who we are but how we have been taught to feel about who we are.

Let’s break down the statistics further:

  • The rate of suicide attempt is over twice as high for LGBTQ+ youth who have experienced conversion therapy vs. those who haven’t, yet in the UK conversion therapy is still a legal practice despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson promising a ban over three years ago.

  • The rate of suicide attempt is nearly twice as high for LGBTQ+ youth who did not have support from others vs those who did.

  • The rate of suicide attempt is over twice as high for trans and nonbinary youth who did not have their pronouns respected vs those who did.

  • 29% of LGBTQ+ youth have been kicked out, ran away, or experience homelessness.

  • 30% of LGBTQ+ youth and 40% of trans and nonbinary youth have been physically threatened or harmed due to their identity.

  • Nearly half of trans and nonbinary youth did not receive the mental healthcare they wanted due to concerns related to the LGBTQ+ competence of providers.

  • Over 40% of LGBTQ+ youth were unable to received healthcare due to concerns over parental permission.

So, the next time the Met Police advise us not to be too gay, remind yourself that the problem is not us and to quote Owen Jones recent Guardian article:

“More than half a century since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, LGBTQ people still fear the repercussions of simply being themselves. Oppression rots a society from the inside out.

When true liberation happens, “coming out” as LGBTQ won’t be the stressful ritual known to many with experiences ranging from the good to the tragic. It won’t actually be a thing at all – and everybody else will be much freer, too.”

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