Illustration by Maedbh Sheridan.
While mental health is a huge issue among the Irish people Shauna Gavin looks at its higher prevalence among the queer community.
WHEN I first started dating my girlfriend I would occasionally refer to periods of my life where my mental health was far from perfect. When she questioned me about it, I tried to brush it off. I said, “I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who identified as LGBTQ with perfect mental health.” A joke that was much too accurate. She laughed and informed that I now had, as she had never experienced any major issues with her mental health, and I was surprised.
That one conversation has stuck with me ever since. It suddenly dawned on me that I wouldn’t expect a fellow queer to have not experienced difficulties with mental health, for the simple fact that so many of us have. It’s crazy to think that someone who hasn’t experienced such difficulties in the queer community would be met with surprise. This is not okay.
I understand that, at the moment, mental health is extremely important for everyone. It is something that needs to be talked about, to be addressed and to be treated like any other illness, regardless of sexuality or gender. We cannot, however, have a proper discussion about the state of the population’s mental health without addressing the fact that mental health problems occur much more frequently in the queer community when compared to the general population.
No matter where you look, the facts are there. LGBTQ youth are more likely to self-harm, in fact it’s been reported that around half of all LGBTQ teens have deliberately harmed themselves. LGBTQ teenagers are three times more likely to attempt suicide and are four times more likely to have experienced depression or anxiety.
LGBTQ youth are more likely to self-harm, in fact it’s been reported that around half of all LGBTQ teens have deliberately harmed themselves.
These specific statistics are from a study done by GLEN and BelongTo on Irish LGBTQ people but any study of similar issues always shows the same thing: queer people have markedly worse mental health than the general population. This study in particular is really important for highlighting the mental health problems of the LGBTQ community in Ireland.
Its findings support the same story that is being told again and again, in Ireland and abroad: a significant proportion of LGBTQ people experience mental health difficulties. The findings of this study are shocking. Homophobia has not disappeared in Ireland, or anywhere in the world, and contrary to popular opinion, marriage equality did not fix all the problems the queer community face.
Why is the mental health of LGBTQ people so much worse than everyone else’s? Along with everything that growing up entails, the fear and worry, the anxiety and school stresses that every teenager faces, LGBTQ youth have added stresses. They might deal with isolation or name-calling, homophobic bullying and harassment and even violence. I understand that anyone can become a victim to any of these issues, but the truth is problems such as these are just more prevalent among LGBTQ youth. The internal struggle to accept oneself and the dread that loved ones won’t accept who you are or who you love is a challenge specific to LGBTQ youth. An upbringing in a society where anything other than heterosexuality is brushed under the rug may cause someone to find it difficult to accept their own identity when it happens to differ from this norm.
So many issues can arise from an inability to accept ourselves: self-hatred, anxiety, depression, self-harm. It’s impossible to pin all mental illness on one specific cause, but when you look at everything that the queer youth face combined, is it really any surprise that our mental health is far from perfect?
ShoutOut (shoutout.ie) is one such organisation that works to combat homophobic bullying in secondary schools around Ireland.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, the GLEN study previously mentioned is the largest study of LGBTQ people in Ireland to date and the fact that it was commissioned by the HSE has to show some sort of movement towards identifying problems and inciting change. From the study it’s clear that LGBTQ youth need more resources. They need more information and they need more help. We need to teach all young people exactly what constitutes homophobic bullying, and we need to stop it. There should be sexual education in secondary schools that doesn’t completely ignore the fact that same-sex attraction exists and, is actually pretty common.
ShoutOut (shoutout.ie) is one such organisation that works to combat homophobic bullying in secondary schools around Ireland. It delivers workshops to teens to try and teach them about terms used in the LGBTQ community, to normalise LGBTQ people and to try and prevent or stop bullying. The workshops are led by volunteers (usually college students) and if you’d like to get involved they regularly hold training for volunteers and it’s a great way to feel like you’re making a real difference in the lives of LGBTQ youth in Ireland.
Things are grim at the moment, but I honestly do feel that we are moving towards a more accepting and open society. We need to educate and inform and love and support. I don’t for a second believe that this will cure the mental health of LGBTQ youth in Ireland but it would be taking steps in the right direction. I know that helping young queer people isn’t going to fix your anxiety or remove the scars from my arms but we have to start somewhere. If anyone reading this is struggling with their mental health, LGBTQ or not, please don’t suffer in silence. Help is out there and I know it’s cheesy but things do get better.
If you are struggling with your mental health in any way resources are listed below:
Pieta House 1800 247 247 pieta.ie
Samaritans 116 123 samaritans.org
Aware 1800 80 48 48 aware.ie
LGBT Helpline 1890 929 539
Student Counselling www.ucd.ie/studentcounselling/