LGBTQ+ and Mental Health
As we dedicate ourselves to celebrating LGBTQ+ communities around the world, reflecting on accomplishments and uplifting voices who have previously not been heard, Carla, a Caseworker for Provider Assurance, talks about her personal experience with mental health and being part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Hi I’m Carla, Although I am relatively young (coming up 24!) and I haven't lived through certain eras or experienced things that my older colleagues have; navigating the world in the early 2010s as an LGBTQ+ teenager was still an enormous struggle for me. I vividly remember the September 2010 suicides, where 9 young gay men tragically took their own lives after being subject to relentless homophobic bullying and I was only 16 when I saw the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 finally being introduced, after decades of debate and discussion.
One of the earliest memories I have of my teenage years, and one of the most formative, was being ‘outed’ in school by someone I called my best friend and had trusted with such a personal piece of information. I had only recently figured out that I was bisexual at age 14 after feeling that I didn't so simply fit into the ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ boxes as all of my other peers seemed to.
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me" was an old proverb that I was always told by my parents, but I almost wished I was ‘completely straight’ or ‘completely gay’, if only to avoid the crude remarks about how ‘bisexual people spread STDs’ or ‘you're just greedy’ or ‘don't expect to be able to settle down with one person’ from my own family, not to mention the more crude or robust insults I received from my classmates.
Although I felt lucky to have not experienced the horror stories about being disowned or kicked out or excommunicated, I didn't feel so lucky when I faked ill just to not go to school or faked an injury so that girls wouldn't back away from me and whisper in the PE changing rooms.
Not feeling safe or comfortable in my own identity translated into so many other areas of my life. My relationships and love life suffered as I felt like I always had a spotlight on me, and I set myself up for failure as I assumed that every man or woman I'd meet would automatically reject me or taunt me for "not being able to make my mind up". Around older members of my family, I never felt like just being me was good enough and that it was my responsibility to uphold this facade of ‘normal’, which in their case always meant ‘straight’.
However, my story has a happy ending: I have the most amazing job I ever could have hoped for in the NHSBSA, working with the most supportive and encouraging colleagues and managers that 14-year-old me could have ever hoped for. My family who had previously said some awful things to me about my sexuality have now grown to accept it. I have an incredible partner who accepts me for who I am and even encouraged me to speak my truth through this article!
I'd like to take a moment to remember and reflect on those who have not had the same positive conclusion that I had. A saying I've heard a lot regarding mental health, or variations thereof, is that it doesn't discriminate. Although that may be true for the most part, as suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24, LGBTQ+ young people contemplate suicide at nearly three times the rate of non-LGBTQ+ young people and are almost five times as likely to have actually attempted suicide compared to non-LGBTQ+ people.
There is a quote from a book I read recently called Little Fires Everywhere that I love and would like to share with you. In the book, an older LGBTQ+ woman reassures a young gay girl struggling with her identity and finding her feet, which is what I want to say to anyone that may be struggling like I did.
"You won't swim forever. I promise." - Celeste Ng.
To end, I want to include some resources for LGBTQ+ individuals who are struggling with mental health and/or suicidal thoughts.
AKT (previously The Albert Kennedy Trust) - https://www.akt.org.uk/
Papyrus UK - https://www.papyrus-uk.org/
The Trevor Project - https://www.thetrevorproject.org/
The It Gets Better Project - https://itgetsbetter.org/
Mind Out - https://mindout.org.uk/