How mental health services can present themselves as safe spaces for people who identify within the LGBTQ+ community
On Saturday 6th July, many members of the Anna Freud Centre, including several Young Champions participated in the incredible Pride parade held in London, an event that grows in numbers and support each year. One of our Young Champions has written a blog about how mental health services can present themselves as safe spaces for people within the LGBTQ+ community.
If I walked into a large room full of individuals who identified themselves as being within the LGBTQ+ community and asked a few at random what their sexualities were, I could easily get more than 30 different possible answers.
When asked last year by someone who was helping me understand my struggles with mental health if I had a boyfriend, it thus implied they assumed I was straight. Although personally I did not feel offended (I prefer to identify without a ‘label’, or am happy with my friends identifying me as ‘pansexual’ or ‘bisexual’, depending on what helps their understanding.) It is understandable why such a comment could have negative implications for others who use their sexuality as a positive way to find a strong sense of community and confidence.
Though I assume a well-meant comment, it is such comments that should be given more careful thought, especially when unfortunately, it is not uncommon that challenges with mental health often come hand in hand with searching for the 'right' sexuality and the concerns around the consequences of identifying as such that might follow.
If I had picked the person up for the comment and asked why they had assumed my sexuality, it could not rightfully be a matter of “Oh, but you don’t look gay, so I just assumed”. You cannot generalise or describe ‘a gay person’ as if describing to someone the image of a cat, or a dog. This assumption could perhaps send a sensitive or distressed person into a spiral of concerning and questioning thoughts, that cause them to question the reasons behind their sexuality. ‘Do I not seem my sexuality?’ ‘Do I fit in with those who identify like me?’ 'Have I got it all wrong?' This then could risk a possibility of shattering their sense of belonging and confidence in their identity: as someone within the LGBTQ+ community, sharing a common sense of pride.
It is vital that young people who confide in mental health services, understand that they can identify how they wish without being judged, nor told otherwise. There are unfortunately individuals within families who still strongly feel that they cannot admit their sexuality or gender preferences to their parents or siblings, for fear of a rejection they could not cope with. Some may even choose not to confide in their friends for support, for fear that word would get out and they would lose the safety net and comfort of their family, which they perhaps feel they cannot afford to lose. Having a place that is openly accepting and acknowledging of the LGBTQ+ community, and therefore can act as a safe support network, is crucial. Use of posters in GPs, hospitals and schools can aid this promotion of a safe, understanding place.
If a young person confided in a counsellor, the young person should confidently know that the counsellor would be able to help them through the possibly distressing period of discovery. Advice could also be offered in talking to friends and family about their sexuality and making sure the young person is safe through each of their decisions. Just like aiding a young person when they are struggling through a tough period regarding their mental health.
Yet it is also important that if a young person who identifies within the LGBTQ+ community and is challenged by poor mental health, then any service that they approach does not assume that the two are necessarily wholly related. There are many people who would agree their experiences of embracing their sexuality contributed to their day-to-day condition of their mental health, for example, seeing a rise in their anxiety levels or negative perception of themselves. However, there is a possibility that discovering sexuality or gender preferences is not related and the cause of such is outside these experiences.
Any person should not feel subject to such assumptions and should confidently know that their mental health will be acknowledged fully, with and without the consideration of their sexuality or gender preferences as a factor.
On My Mind is a free website co-producded by young people to help others with their mental health. It includes a Youth Wellbeing Directory, where you can find free local support, including LGBTQI+ services. Our Urgent Help page features organisations that offer help and support for young LGBTQI+ people.