The other week I watched the BBC Three documentary ‘Growing Up Gay’ about how the LGBT community is more likely to be affected by mental health. The documentary was presented by Years and Years singer Olly Alexander, and delved into the harsh realities of our struggling LGBT youth. The documentary stated that 40% of the LGBT community suffers with their mental health, compared to 25% of heterosexuals.
That’s quite a difference.
In 2017 the perception is that everything is hunkey dorey for the LGBT community, especially in the UK. We can marry, have children, socialise safely and go about our lives knowing that we are legally protected from discrimination and hate crime.
But clearly all is not as it seems.
When I left school some ten years ago, sexuality was never discussed. Sure, we were taught about what happens when your body changes and rages with the hormones of adolescence, how babies were made and why one day you suddenly started having ‘special feelings’ about people you found attractive, but it was all geared towards heterosexual relationships. It’s a similar story when it comes to mental health. Everything was put down to hormones and being teenagers.
Both when I came out to my friends as bisexual and when my mental health suffering became obvious to those on the outside, my school was hilariously unprepared. No one had been trained to deal with either issue and so staff and school nurses fumbled their way around confusing counselling sessions and embarrassing assemblies that offered no clarification or support on either subject. It was actually a few of the teachers who weren’t sent to ‘deal with me’ that offered the best life advice from their own experiences. And in the end, that’s all I wanted. To be spoken to like an adult. To be spoken to with openness and honesty.
I was one of the lucky ones. I was teased for my sexuality and treated differently by quite a few students (and one or two members of staff), but my close knit community of friends were full of support. I left school thinking all of that type of negativity would be left behind, but it wasn’t until I got out into the real world I realised how much of a problem homophobia still is.
I’ve had to listen to a lot of off hand comments in my twenties, from friends, family members and even people in my own community. Someone has always got something to say about bisexuals – mostly comments on how we’re greedy or more likely to cheat, and even if you don’t ask for comment people feel obliged to tell you anyway. It’s that old chestnut of someone saying “I’m not homophobic, but…” and then follows uneducated stupidity that as much as you try to shake your head and laugh off, sometimes actually hurts. It makes you feel like you’re different, a lot different, and that difference is something to hide or even be ashamed of. You get anxious in conversations with strangers and defensive in debates with friends. Because you’re sick and tired of explaining your sexuality in 2017.
It’s 2017 and schools are still not teaching students about mental health and sexuality, they’re also not doing enough when it comes to bullying. Transgender youth have a 50% chance of attempting suicide, and that is both unacceptable and terrifying. Too much is put down to ‘kids are just mean’ or ‘boys will be boys’ and I’m not sure if the education needs to start at home or at school – but it should definitely exist in both.
Of course I’m aware there have been some steps in the right direction. The documentary itself shows schools holding workshops to talk about sexuality and make students more aware of the damages bullying can cause, but there’s still such a long way to go.
With my mental health issues starting at such a young age, I know my sexuality isn’t a part of the cause but it would be naive of me to say there was no correlation at all. It definitely added to the confusion and loneliness I felt in my teenage years and sometimes plays a part in my social anxieties today. Yet, for many members of the LGBT community I know it’s a lot worse. I know we’ve lost a lot of amazing people simply because they couldn’t accept themselves or others refused to accept them.
What I can say to any LGBT person struggling with their mental health is – it does get better. I promise you, it gets better. You just need to find a way to talk, with or without words, and hold on to the people who hold on back.