Mental Health Awareness Week
Last week we saw Mental Health Awareness week celebrated throughout our media channels. The week was about raising awareness and promoting the better understanding of mental health, well-being and illnesses. While as many as 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience mental health issues at some point in their lives, mental health is a topic that many shy away from, and that many misunderstand. Mental health - particularly mental illness - is often subject to scrutiny, stereotyping, demonising and grave misconception. This ignorance must be challenged by better educating ourselves and each other, and by exercising compassion.
There are countless reasons that we may present with mental health issues, including both internal and external triggers. However, it will come as no surprise to know that LGBT+ individuals are more likely to experience mental health problems than the general population. In addition to the common causes, we are also more likely to experience discrimination, rejection, bullying, exclusion and hate crimes than our heterosexual counterparts.
Research has shown that as many as 40% of LGBT+ Londoners have experienced a mental health issue at some point in their lives. And with as many as 1 in 6 LGBT+ people having experienced a hate crime, it's no wonder.
With our PrideAM hats on, let us consider LGBT+ mental health in two situations that tend to hold a lot of influence in our lives: in the workplace, and in the media that we consume.
In the workplace
Regardless of what the bare bones of our respective job roles are, we can all agree that our workplace environments can have massive effects on our mood, and our mental health. We spend the majority of our hours working, and so it only stands to reason that our professional atmospheres, environments, and colleagues are hugely influential and impressionable on us.
However, it is doubtful that many heterosexual employees have to sacrifice their pride and mental well-being to censor speech and hide their relationship from their workmates. Nor will they have to build an unassailable resilience to bullying disguised as “banter” by colleagues whose understanding of you is shallow at best. These additional stressors take their toll over time, both on mental health and on professional performance.
In wider society, LGBT+ people are 10 times more likely to experience discrimination based on sexual orientation; while LGB employees are2.5 times more likely to face bullying in the workplace than their heterosexual counterparts. Additional research shows that 42% of LGBT+ adults experience sexuality-based workplace discrimination. Keeping our true selves hidden suddenly seems like a no-brainer, right?
This all feeds into the professional and personal lives of LGBT+ individuals. Employees who have experienced discrimination in the workplace have higher levels of psych distress and health-related problems than those who have not experienced discrimination. Most crucially, research has also shown both: the detrimental effects of bullying throughout adulthood; and the importance of positive and reliable support networks (including family, friends and colleagues) in reducing psychological distress in LGBT+ people.
For those of us - LGBT+ or not - who have experienced mental illness during full-time employment will know that by openly living as such is to open yourself up to a host of varying reactions. Whether it is a well-intended 'break' from the usual workload encouraged by your senior, or the more pejorative 'I-now-don't-trust-you-with-any-real-responsibility' implied demotion, being honest about your professional and personal 'weakness' can be risky.
In the media
Have you ever considered the importance of healthy LGBT+ representation in the media with regards to the mental health of LGBT+ audiences? Research has shown a direct correlation between LGBT+ individuals, poor media representation, and poor mental health.
When we campaign for inclusive, well-portrayed, realistic and healthy representation of LGBT+ individuals, we aren’t just doing it for the fun of it. We yearn for positive representation to better reflect ourselves as LGBT+ individuals and as a community. It stands to reason that the way we see ourselves depicted in the media is very influential to how we view ourselves, and how we believe the wider general public views us as an out-group.
In order to feel accepted as LGBT+ individuals and as a community, we need to see acceptance. It is crucial to normalise LGBT+ people in our society by producing true-to-life reflections of us as the regular, everyday people we are; rather than focusing purely on sexuality-based story-lines or exacerbating stereotypes. It can be difficult to think of yourself as “normal” when society and media are not reflecting you as such.
Again, research has shown that fear of rejection becomes detrimental to self-esteem and self-image, impacting on the ability and ease to be open about sexual or gender identity. Noticing a pattern here? Me too.
Let's be able to talk openly about mental health, and let's keep working towards equality - both in and out of the workplace and the media.
If you’re LGBT+ and currently or previously have had mental health issue, join us at Pride AM and be part of a safe and supportive community. Almost certainly one of us has been through something similar.