What does being queer have to do with mental health?

Looking back at the numerous queer/trans people I’ve befriended and spoken to over the years, it’s become staggeringly clear that mental illness is something that occurs a lot within the LGBT+ community. Figures and studies from recent years show that queer people are more likely to experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal feelings than their heterosexual/cisgender counterparts.

That isn’t to say that one is caused by the other (despite what people used to think back in the day when everyone was arguably more uninformed and narrow-minded) – mental illness is not a side effect of being queer, and being queer does not automatically increase one’s chances of suffering from mental health problems.

However, looking at discrimination and the negative effects it can have on a person’s mentality, it’s safe to say that the way LGBT+ people are treated in society can definitely have a detrimental impact on their mental wellbeing. It has been proven that increased mental health problems experienced by the queer community are exacerbated by bullying, rejection, violence, not being hired for jobs, being exiled from their religious communities, and general homophobia/biphobia/transphobia, etc.

These can have a catalyst effect, bringing down a person’s self-esteem and causing them to think badly of themselves, which in turn can send them into a dark place and possibly intensify any mental health issue they may already be struggling with.

This doesn’t only apply to direct discrimination – seeing news reports of trans people being attacked/murdered, hearing about queer people being kicked out of their homes by their own families, seeing little (if any) positive representation of the LGBT+ community in mainstream media – all of this contributes to an already-volatile situation in which LGBT+ people are taught that they matter less because of their gender/sexuality.

When queer/trans people are told that they don’t matter, they stop seeing the value in themselves, and oftentimes stop thinking of themselves as important or valid

The social stigmas that queer people face have a lasting effect on a lot of them and can make them not want to interact with the world. Sometimes they don’t even want to live in it anymore, which is heartbreaking. So while there isn’t a causality effect between mental illness and being queer, there does seem to be a correlation – one which is intensified by hostility towards and refusal to accept LGBT+ people.

This all ties into an individual’s self-perception and how a person can feel when identifying with a minority group that is routinely discriminated against. When faced with this prejudice on a regular basis, a person can begin to feel excluded from the world and the people around them, which can develop into severe self-loathing and internalised homophobia/transphobia/biphobia, etc.

It becomes a negative thought pattern that the individual then has to unlearn in order to progress to the point of self-acceptance, rather than simply growing up with the knowledge that there’s nothing wrong with them being who they are.

This unlearning process could, in theory, be made much easier if LGBT+ topics were simply talked about in a way that didn’t make them seem taboo or something to be ashamed of. If queer/trans kids were brought up to see themselves as just as important as their straight/cisgender peers, then they would be less likely to suffer from feelings of ostracism and confusion, which would ideally lead to them having a more positive outlook and not carrying around any negative thoughts about their own identity.

LGBT+ acceptance at a younger age could also help minimise the fear that queer/trans people may feel when out in a public setting. Speaking from my own experience, it can be quite scary to walk down the street, either with a partner or even just alone, because there is a constant voice in the back of my mind warning me that someone might decide to attack me simply because I’m different.

This fear is not something that anyone should have to carry around with them, especially when it is about something they have no control over. Fear can impact a person’s mental health and make them reluctant to even interact with the world around them because they are afraid of harmful ‘retaliation’ from oppressive groups.

As I’ve said before, mental health and LGBT+ discrimination don’t always go hand-in-hand. But, a way to help the queer community suffer less from mental illness? Education. Acceptance. Love. All of these things will help people feel comfortable and okay with who they are, and will hopefully lead to more happiness too.

Oh, and one more thing. Before we bring this post to a close, I’d like to give a message to all of my queer/trans siblings out there:

You are valid. You are important. You matter. Regardless of what people around you say, or what you may be struggling with, or how hopeless things may feel. They won’t always be this way. You will make it through, and you will be so strong and so brave for doing so. And it’s okay to stumble and make mistakes sometimes. You’re only human. And you’re great just the way you are.

Steph

A 22-year-old Creative Writing graduate who loves sushi, puppies, and wine. When I'm not writing, you can find me waffling on about my pets or singing Disney songs with my sister. Passionately obsessed with many TV shows that involve fictional queer ladies.