Those of us who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or do not fit into traditional categories of gender or sexuality (LGBTIQ+) are statistically more likely to experience a mental health problem compared to the rest of the population. This LGBT+ History Month, we spoke with two local people – Cici and Mia – to discuss the relationship between their LGBTIQ+ identity and mental health.
It’s important to stress that being LGBTIQ+ does not cause mental health problems and the reasons those of us who identify in this way are more likely to experience them are complex. It is often linked with external factors such as facing stigma, discrimination, social isolation or exclusion and difficult experiences in ‘coming out’. Embracing your LGBTIQ+ identity can also have a positive impact on wellbeing as we’ll explore.
Cici (he/him), aged 23, identifies as queer and agender saying, “I don’t have a sense of gender. I’m a musician who enjoys theatre, art and writing, and works for two LGBT+ charities. My interests mean a lot to my identity and expressing queerness and gender queerness.”
He has experienced anxiety and low mood which has been closely linked to experiences of being mis-gendered in personal interactions and, on a wider scale, fear of discrimination in UK law. He says, “It’s upsetting when people don’t see my gender identity or seek to understand it. It hurts when people don’t try to use my correct pronouns or provide gender neutral spaces for me.
For example, swimming is really important to my mental health and yet there is nowhere for me to shower like everyone else because they are gendered spaces. Every time I come out of the pool, I’m reminded that I don’t exist in this society and don’t have a space.”
Mia (she/her), aged 66, is a trans woman and shared how she has experienced challenges in waiting for medical support in addition to facing a lack of understanding, fear and sometimes hatred in society. Mia is married with children and grandchildren and came out 18 months ago after experiencing a period of intense gender dysphoria.
She says, “When I spoke to my GP I was referred to a Gender Identity Clinic and was told that there was a two-year waiting list. I despaired thinking, ‘what am I supposed to do for two years?’. It has been a very upsetting and distressing experience feeling unable to move forward with my transition.”
Despite the challenges of being LGBTIQ+ in our current society impacting their mental health, both Cici and Mia have been broadly supported by those closest to them since coming out and are keen to emphasise the positives of embracing their own identities, including forming connections with others.
Cici says, “A lot of my community is formed around queer, trans and non-binary identity and having those spaces and something which binds you to other people has been a real positive in my life.”
At CPSL Mind, two of our six key values are inclusivity and respect. We’re marking this LGBT+ History Month to highlight the actions behind these words which can make a big difference in supporting the wellbeing of the LGBTIQ+ community. Including and respecting people on a personal level can start with simple steps such as being open to understanding other’s gender identity and using their chosen pronouns.
Mia says, “Rather than just dwelling on the challenges, you have to celebrate and enjoy those positive moments such as, for me, walking into a shop and someone addressing me as madam.”
For more information on LGBTIQ+ mental health, including links to further support, please visit national Mind’s LGBTIQ+ mental health webpage.