We must focus on the LGBT+ community this World Mental Health Day

by Jessica Stern | OutRight Action International
Saturday, 10 October 2020 19:12 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Transgender Mexicans take part in exercises after finding refuge in a shelter, after the hotels where they were residing were forced to shut down during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Mexico City, Mexico June 28, 2020. Picture taken June 28, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Romero

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

World Mental Health Day is all too relevant for LGBT+ people who remain among the most discriminated, hated and persecuted people in the world

Jessica Stern is executive director of OutRight Action International.

October 10 is World Mental Health Day – a day for raising awareness and breaking social stigma surrounding mental health issues, which are all too often swept under the rug. It is a day that is all too relevant for LGBT+ people who remain among the most discriminated, hated and persecuted populations in the world. In this context it is no wonder that mental health issues plague LGBT+ people around the world, while discriminatory attitudes lead to a lack of access to affirmative care. On top of that, too many LGBT+ people are subjected to “conversion therapy” practices that amplify the mental health issues we already face, and cause further, sometimes irreparable, harm.

We need to break the stigma around mental health issues, and we need to elevate LGBT+ people within that debate.

Studies about the mental health of LGBT+ people do not exist everywhere. But where they do, the findings are staggering. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in the US, lesbian, gay and bisexual adults are more than twice as likely as the general public to experience a mental health condition.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual high-school students are almost five times as likely to attempt suicide as their peers, while almost half of all transgender people report having considered suicide in the past 12 months.

In the UK, Stonewall reports that 52% of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals, and almost 70% of trans and non-binary individuals experienced depression in 2019. Sixty-one percent of LGBT+ people experienced anxiety, and 52% of LGBT+ people aged 18-24 thought about suicide in the past year.

Both of these findings are in countries that have legislative protections for LGBT+ people. In both, equal marriage is possible, some forms of discrimination are banned, and affirmative mental health support exists (even if it is not available to everyone). And even so, half of all LGBT+ youth and trans people consider suicide. I can only imagine that in the 67 countries that still criminalize same-sex relations, in places like Russia, Indonesia or Egypt, which don’t criminalize same-sex relations but where concerted persecution of LGBT+ people takes place, the numbers are even higher, while the opportunities for affirmative care are few.

As part of  report we published last year on so-called conversion therapy, M.A., a survivor from Nigeria told us that due to the practice he is “psychologically scarred and face mental health issues, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, a sense of worthlessness and an urge to run away from who I am.” As a result, he contemplated suicide many times, and attempted it once.

George Barasa, a survivor from Kenya, said this attempt to change someone’s sexuality or gender identity is “a process of continued degradation and assault on the core of who you are.” He too attempted to take his own life.

All over the world we face amplified mental health issues. Not only is finding affirmative care challenging as it is, we may end up in the hands of practitioners who willingly, knowingly subject us to psychologically and often physically violent conversion practices, such as electroshock, or “aversion therapy”.

Conversion therapy should be banned in all its forms, and mental health professionals offering such practices should have their licenses revoked.

On this World Mental Health Day we need to not only work towards breaking the stigma around mental health issues, we need to ensure that the voices of LGBT+ people, and especially survivors of “conversion therapy”, are elevated.