LGBT mental health care responses need to be tailored and shaped by role models, argues Jenny Richards.
- In 1967, homosexuality was partly decriminalised in Britain.
- In 1987, homosexuality was taken out of the American classification of mental disorders.
- In 2014, a survey by the University of Cambridge found Britain’s LGBT population are twice as likely to suffer from chronic mental health problems than those not in the LGBT community.
- In 2016, PACE, London’s leading LGBT mental health charity, had to close due to lack of funding.
- In June this year, the World Health Organisation said they would stop classifying being transgender as a mental disorder.
- Last month the government announced its plan to make gay-conversation therapy illegal.
It’s clear to see that the history of the LGBT community and the mental health system is a fraught one, and today, these services are still failing us. Almost one in five LGBT people have a negative experience of accessing public health services because of their sexual orientation and one in three because of their gender identity.
"It was only when a counsellor looked at how my difficulties in understanding self-worth were rooted in issues I had with my own queerness and also my disability, that my mental health really began to improve."
The reality is that mainstream mental health services were not designed with LGBT people in mind, and though I’m pleased that the government is currently investigating these mental health inequalities, there has previously been little work to rectify the situation. The contradiction of systematic oppression existing in what is a supposed sphere of care needs to be understood and addressed.
Currently, when people try to access the mental health system, they are quickly labelled and boxed into one service that doesn’t meet their needs. Mental health services instead should look at each person as a complete individual, understanding their unique needs.
If an LGBT person has depression, their mental health condition should be not looked at in isolation. When I was a teenager, I went through various forms of counselling, but it was only when a counsellor looked at how my difficulties in understanding self-worth were rooted in issues I had with my own queerness and also my disability, that my mental health really began to improve.
Though it is rarely considered in practice, it does make sense that our individual life experience naturally affects our mental state. That’s why Wish, the women’s mental health charity I am a member of, created the Women’s Mental Health Network. This project is about getting organisations from across different sectors to work together to provide a more holistic approach in looking at a person’s mental health. Working with charities who specialise in LBGT needs, homelessness, refugee women and other areas enables us to combine our different areas of knowledge to ensure someone is getting the access to services they need.
Role models provide a sense of safety
This all ties into building a community to support an LGBT person who currently feels let down by the mental health system. This is not just about different services working together, but is also about creating an environment where an LGBT person feels safe to talk about their experiences.
Though it’s been great to see the mental health conversation opening up recently, there’s been a lack of LGBT role models talking about their mental health in the mainstream media. The same role models who I avidly searched for when I first began to realise my mental health was affected by how I felt about my sexuality.
That’s why we need to give a platform to LGBT mental health campaigners like Tanya Compas, Rowan Ellis, and Ellen Jones. Seeing someone who reflects you in the media no doubt makes a huge difference in providing a supportive and safe environment for someone to open up about both their sexuality and mental health. It was no coincidence that I came out as queer after I read, for the first time, a book that had a lesbian protagonist. And it’s also no coincidence that my mental health dramatically improved after I came out, again highlighting how these issues do not exist in isolation.
- See also: LGBT mental healthcare inequalities face government inquiry
- See also: What can we learn from trans activism?
- See also: Challenging narratives: What is The Power Threat Meaning Framework?
- See also: The 'female hysteria' myth continues to undermine women's mental health care
We need to advocate for services that recognise the unique needs of people who live at the intersections of mental health, such as being LGBT and suffering with depression, or perhaps being a woman of colour and experiencing anxiety. To address the fact that LGBT people, as well as other minorities, are being failed by mainstream mental health services, we need to listen to these voices rather than simply decide for them how they must feel.
That’s why Wish are consulting with as many people who identify as women or non-binary as possible to find out what changes they want to see in the mental health system. This consultation will be closing on the 1st October and we will then be developing user-led campaigns to improve these issues. Your voice is vital and needs to be heard; please fill out our survey here to let us know what’s important to you.
How does this story make you feel? Share you views using #MHTchat. We will be discussing on Twitter from 12pm UK time today, Wednesday August 29th.