Why we need to talk more about mental health issues in the LGBTQ community.

Why is mental health such an issue in LGBTQ communities?
People in the LGBTQ community may be more susceptible to mental health issues due to a range of factors such as discrimination – which can include verbal bullying, physical abuse and inequalities – as well as isolation, homophobia and hate crime. Research nationwide has found that people from the LGBTQ community are more at risk of suicidal behaviour and self-harm and that they are more likely to develop depression and anxiety compared to the rest of the population.

For some people ‘coming out’ can be a liberating experience but if you come out and experience rejection, it can affect your sense of worth. This may lead to people feeling that they have to hide their real self which may cause a decline in their mental wellbeing and increase stress.

Fortunately, there is a growing acceptance of the LGBTQ community in the UK in recent years which is helping to combat such issues.

Why is it important to speak out about mental health issues?
Stigma, shame and embarrassment, or any feelings you may be experiencing that your GP or counsellor may not understand, are just a few factors that may prevent someone seeking help. It’s important to speak out about any mental health concerns as containing your emotions for too long can have serious implications both mentally and physically. These emotions can build up and if you do not find a release, can bubble up and weigh on you mentally.

If you have experienced any of the following symptoms, you could benefit from seeking help:

  • Feel constantly tired or have a lack of energy.
  • Feel fearful.
  • Shut yourself away from people.
  • No longer want to do things you may have enjoyed.
  • Use alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings.
  • Have harmed yourself or have thoughts about self-harming.

It’s important to remember that you are not alone, if you are not ready to speak with friends of family you could seek help from LGBT support groups. Here you will be given the opportunity to share your feelings and experiences with others and given advice of where to seek further help, if needed. Don’t suffer in silence, you should get help as soon as you feel the need. Regardless of how big or small your issues may seem, there will always be someone to help.

What can be the result if a mental health issue is left unresolved?
Mental illness is different from some physical illnesses in that they are not often physically identifiable. However, like many physical illnesses, they do not simply ‘go away’ over time and often the longer they persist they harder they will be to treat. People with depression, for example, might only experience a handful of symptoms on a few days to start off with, but if left untreated these may expand and become more frequent. This can start to affect your daily life, your work, your relationships and your family life, the result of these problems leads on to knock-on effects.

Do you have any practical tips for managing your mental health?
It can feel as if you are on your own, but do not see mental illness as a lack of coping skills or personal failure. Just because people may not see what is going on in your head, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not happening for you. I would suggest speaking to someone as soon as you start feeling something isn’t right, whether it is a partner, family member or a professional.

There are professionals out there trained to help you. Some practical advice for managing your mental health is:

  • Getting enough of sleep is important for both your physical and mental health, I recommend 6-8 hours.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Avoid smoking and drugs, particularly after drinking as they can leave you more anxious and depressed the next day.
  • It’s important to also know what triggers your stress and looking for ways to avoid these or cope is key in maintaining good mental health. Activity and exercise can help but also doing something you enjoy in your day to day routine.

What should you do if you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health?
Talking to someone when you are struggling with your mental wellbeing may seem difficult, however it is often the first step to take when you are going through a hard time. If someone has spoken to you about how they are feeling and you feel they may benefit from looking at some treatment options, work together and plan what is best suited for their need. It is important to give them space to talk and listen to how they are feeling. While it may be upsetting to hear that someone you care about is distressed, you should be patient and remain calm as it may be difficult for them to express their feelings and it may take a while. It may help to actively research support groups and possibly go to appointments (even if it is just the first one) with them if you can and offer your help where possible.

What is the best course of action/what are the treatment options for someone struggling with their mental health?
There are specially trained networks, such as the Albert Kennedy trust or Imaan, which help to support those in LGBTQ communities. There are also low cost or free counselling services available which can be found online or by asking local LGBT services in your town. Counselling may be helpful as it gives people an opportunity to work together with the therapist on coping-strategies. If you feel the depression or anxiety is affecting you and you feel counselling or medication may not help, there are drug-free, non-intrusive treatments such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) available. This form of treatment uses targeted magnetic pulses to stimulate the areas of the brain affected by mental health conditions to reduce symptoms.

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