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Let us talk about Mental Healthcare for the LGBTQIA+ Community!

Well, it is no news that people who belong to the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Trans, Queers, Intersex, A-sexuals, and others) go through a lot of harassment and mental health issues. Even though article 377 has been abolished in India, their lives still revolve around stigma and shame. People from the community go through a lot such as bullying, shaming, harassment, abuse, and mis-gendering to name a few. In this article, we delve into the prevalent mental health issues, reasons for their mental health issues, and how to be an ally for the LGBTQIA+ community.



Prevalent Mental Health Issues:


People who identify with the LGBTQI+ community are known to go through far more harassment and intolerance than people who identify themselves as cis heterosexuals.


  • They often go through tremendous difficulties growing up in a society where heterosexuality is normative. Homosexuality and gender dysphoria are often recognized as deviant. They often face exclusion and discrimination in all spheres of their lives.

  • As knowing about one’s own sexuality is a process, it often leads to conflicts towards oneself. Not only that, rejection from their family after they come out, has a major impact on their lives and well-being.

  • Violence and abuse are widespread. A majority of LGBTQIA+ people choose to continue to hide their sexual orientation to save themselves from the harassment from their fellow friends and family members, and even their colleagues.

  • These people encounter racism and poverty daily. They are often subjected to hate crimes and violence.

  • Socio-economical differences and inequality are significant factors that account for this discrimination and marginalization. They face job instability, which accounts for greater unemployment and high poverty rates and their wage gap is also significant.

  • LGBTQ community is exposed to higher rates of mental health issues, where depression and anxiety are quite common. They are more vulnerable to these issues as they are still undergoing social and emotional development. These emotions lead to secluding themselves from others, psychological distress, lowered self-esteem, and confidence.

  • Drug addiction and substance abuse are common. This is because they are exposed to personal and cultural stressors. Self-limiting and self-loathing are also causes of higher substance intake.



Causes for the prevalence of mental health issues:


  • Identity formation: As people often try to identify with themselves and their sexuality, it can cause significant distress and misunderstanding. As Erik Erikson’s theory clearly pointed out, people at this age often go through a phase of identity vs role confusion, they do not understand what they identify with and feel different from their friends and family members. This leads to various other problems such as a strong sense of loneliness and they feel like an outsider.

  • Dysphoria: Gender dysphoria refers to a sense of unease and distress caused due to conflicts between their assigned gender at birth and what they actually identify with. There can be internal conflicts as to what they are experiencing or external conflicts, that is, how the world sees them or are they able to fit in. The dysmorphism accentuates especially when people are going through puberty when they are already insecure about their bodies.

  • Belonging: The need for belongingness is very important, especially when someone is still trying to identify with themselves. They have different interests compared to their friends and peers. People do not conform to the behaviors that are associated with their genders. This makes them more vulnerable to bullying, loneliness, and isolation.

  • Bullying and discrimination: There are hardly any safe spaces where people can talk about their gender and sexuality. Imagine the kind of impact a young boy would go through if he was being told that he is not “masculine enough” or a young girl who is trying to understand herself is being told that she is not is “feminine enough,” it would hit hard, wouldn’t it?

  • Relationships: Our relationships define our lives. If you are in a healthy relationship with your family and friends, you grow better, you get a sense of support and belongingness. People from the LGBTQI+ community might try to seek help from their friends, family, and their loved ones. They might try to “fit in” and find a safe space where they feel belonged.



What can you do and how to be an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community?


A lot of people experience emotional distress, feel isolated or have a mental health issue but they choose not to disclose their issues because of the fear of a backlash, or doing so will lead to a perception of being seen as weak.


To be an ally to the community, it is of utmost importance that you start initiating discussions around their mental health issues and offering help to those who might require the same. Here are a few ways in which you can help them:


Recognize:


Acknowledge what your friend is going through if they’re isolating themselves from others, are extremely anxious, and irritable, and have drastic changes in their lifestyle. Validating their emotions, offering them support when they are understanding themselves can boost their self-esteem and stop questioning themselves.


Listen:


Active listening is important, paying attention to the person you are talking to, and maintaining eye contact will reassure them that you are being all ears. Acknowledge their feelings, make them feel heard. Doing simple things like asking them about how they are coping, what can you do to help them can do wonders!


Offer empathy:


Empathy does not mean sympathy. Hear them out, understand them, offer support and engage with them.



 

As the author of this article, I’d like to share some don’ts as well because it is very important to be careful. Do not pity their condition, instead, try to understand them. Do not assume anything or tell them you know what they are going through. Do not give any unsolicited advice, until they ask for it. Sometimes telling them what to do might question their own decisions.


Helping the LGBTQIA+ community can help bring about a change in society and make the community feel heard. We need to break the stigmas and offer help. It is the little things that help bring a larger change in society.

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