With LGBTQ+ suicide rates much higher than for the rest of the population Tadgh Dolan looks at mental health in the community
The stigma that comes with mental illness can be almost as debilitating as the disease itself. Those who suffer, do so in silence. Those who are at risk, remain so, by denying that what they are experiencing is ‘real’. There are very few people I have met in my life as brave as those who battle with their personal affliction, or illness if we want to call it that. The purpose of my writing is to shed some light on this mass stigmatisation, with a particular focus on the LGBTQ+ community.
“Look after your mental health”, is a slogan which has permeated Irish society over the last number of years, prompting the government to boost its funding to mental health services in Ireland to 35 million euro in 2015. It’s safe to say the stigma towards mental illness has somewhat diminished in this country, but when we look at the alarming rates of suicide, and those who suffer from depression (estimated at 300,000 people according to the Irish charity Aware) it is clear to see that there still exists a major problem.
Growing up as a LGBTQ+ youth puts additional strain on your mental health as we live in a society that is laden with homophobia and transphobia. ‘Faggot’, ‘Dyke’, ‘Tranny’ or simply ‘that’s gay’ still echo across the playground and may even be heard in the workplace, but only behind closed doors as adults must be more civilised than children when it comes to being homophobic.
Being gay myself, I can see how one’s mental health is at risk, especially during your days in secondary school, when all you desire is to ‘fit in’. I did what many do and shut the closet door, only daring to be myself from the comfort of my room. I hung around with a group of lads, and when the word ‘gay’ surfaced I would retreat, back in to myself, so as not to upset the order of gay-bashing that would proceed. ‘You’re such a faggot!’ they would say to one another, almost affectionately, as if it bonded them closer together. When they glanced my way, I wondered if they could see past my feigning smile, and smell the fear that was seeping from my skin. As a closeted individual you live in perpetual fear of being discovered.
Each day becomes a mission, to work out how to keep that part of your life secret. From this perspective it is easy for me to see why gay teens are so at risk. According to The Trevor Project, a US based LGBTQ+ support service, LGBTQ+ youth are four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, a startling statistic that highlights the need for more education in schools.
This is an initiative which has been taken on by Irish based LGBTQ+ support groups, such as GLEN, BeLonGTo and ShoutOut. GLEN, the gay and lesbian equality network, aims to bring equal civil rights to gays and lesbians living in Ireland. They have helped Ireland achieve a range of legislative and policy changes including: decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993; recognition of sexual orientation in refugee law in 1996; inclusion in Employment Equality in 1998; Equal Status in 2000; and most recently, comprehensive Civil Partnership in 2010. BeLonGTo, focuses on LGBTQ+ youth, launching its ‘Stand up!’ campaign to combat homophobia and transphobia in schools and the workplace. ShoutOut are an organisation that give workshops in secondary schools to help fight stigma around LGBTQ+ issues and to discourage homophobia and transphobia. From researching and speaking to LGBTQ+ friends, I have come to draw a few conclusions on LGBTQ+ mental health in Ireland.
Firstly, we live in a homophobic world, it’s a fact that despite our best efforts is simply unavoidable. In 81 countries it is illegal to be gay and in 10 of those countries being gay is punishable by death. In Ireland homosexuality was criminalised until 1993 and considered a mental illness until the 1970s. We come from a history where being gay was forbidden and punishable under state law. It was a delusion of the mind, a perversion of God’s will that we must marry a nice member of the opposite sex and procreate. Fortunately, with increased awareness and education and with figures like Senator David Norris paving the way, we now live in a society that has become open to the idea that LGBTQ+ people not only exist, but are equal, functioning members of society. We are visible, now more than ever. Look at Laverne Cox, the first transgender woman to win an Emmy Award for the hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black. The look at Tom Daley, he came out as being in a relationship with a man and did the world stop? No. Many who fancied him were sad to see that he was taken though!
It is impossible for me to give this topic the full attention it deserves. Throughout my research I found it difficult to get statistics and figures when it came to the LGBTQ+ community. I did however come across an amazing study carried out by GLEN and BeLonGTo in 2009 entitled ‘Supporting LGBT Lives: A study of the mental health and well-being of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people’ which can be found online and is well worth having a look at if you are interested in reading the hard facts.
I do however want to offer some advice to those who are going through a difficult period. It can be easy to move inward when things get too much but do talk to somebody. There are incredible support services in this country for the LGBTQ+ community including organisations such as BeLonGTo, GLEN, LGBT helpline, and Aware. For those of you in college UCD offers a free counselling service which can be accessed through the UCD website and the SU welfare officer and the LGBTQ+ committee are always there to listen. Don’t suffer in silence, take positive steps and remember that although it can be tough to be LGBTQ+ it really does get so much better.
Pop over to our coffee mornings for tea and a chat! If you ever want someone to talk to you can contact our Welfare Officer, Tim, at firstname.lastname@example.org or email the society at email@example.com