Even as conversations around mental health are growing, there is much that remains to be understood and said about the mental health of the LGBTQIA+ community.
According to the US-based National Alliance of Mental Illness, LGBTQIA+ persons are three times more likely to have a mental health condition, four times more at risk of having suicidal thoughts or making an attempt on their lives and are more susceptible to substance abuse as well. In India, where biases against the community persists, they have a long way to go in terms of acceptance. For this reason, the conversation around the communityâ€™s mental health is even more crucial.
In an attempt to address this, White Swan Foundation, a non-profit working in the area of mental health, has come out with an eBook called Mental Health 101: LGBTQIA+ Edition, which not only primes one on the basic mental health issues common to the community and why, but also includes sections on how one can find support within themselves, in the community and from mental health practitioners, as well as how people are can better allies to LGTBQIA+ people.
â€śThis is an effort to start a conversation,â€ť says Manoj Chandran, CEO, White Swan Foundation. â€śIn our conversation with members from the queer community, we learnt that they wanted a product that could shed light on the issues they face, even if it does not delve deeply into each of them.â€ť
Put together with over six months of research, interviews, guidance and inputs from the community, allies and mental health experts, the 28-page eBook looks into why queer people are more likely to develop mental health issues. Some of reasons are the struggle to come to terms with their identity due to negative stereotypes around the community, a lack of belonging, bullying and discrimination they may face because they do not adhere to the gender binary and heteronormative stereotypes and so on.
Further, the LGBTQIA+ community is also more likely to face emotional, physical or sexual abuse in relationships. â€śWhile it can be difficult to draw boundaries clearly or to identify violence and/or abuse in any kind of relationship, it can perhaps be even more challenging to recognize subtler forms of abuse from family and friends when the outside world is clearly discriminating against you,â€ť the eBook explains.
Written in simple language, the book is not aimed at a particular age group, but for anyone who wants to learn about the mental health challenges faced by the queer community. What stands out about it is that though brief, the booklet does not altogether lack nuance. In fact, it goes into how acceptance and expression of gender and sexuality plays into oneâ€™s self-worth; issues such as dysphoria; challenges of transitioning to oneâ€™s felt gender. A particularly helpful section is on coming out as a queer person, where tips on what one should be prepared for before coming out, such as a safe space, being prepared financially and arranging accommodation if oneâ€™s parents are likely to respond with hostility, and above all, being ready.
â€śTrying to help someone come out is like forcing a butterfly out of its cocoon - it does more harm than good. What helps is to keep an environment of warm acceptance and safety,â€ť the book notes â€“ one of the many small ways in which you can be a good ally.
Manoj says that it was important for everyone to understand that they have a stake in this. â€śThe key decisions taken on mental health issues, including that of the LGBTQIA+ communityâ€™s, are based on our own thoughts and perceptions. Therefore, it is important for everyone to know about these issues; it is important for everyone to change, not just the queer community.â€ť
He also points out that while in bigger cities, more work is happening on LGBTQIA+ mental health, there is still a lot to be done, especially in terms of infrastructure. For instance, the fact that they had to rely on the National Alliance of Mental Illness, a US-based organisation, to somewhat gauge how mental health impacts the community, says something. â€śNo large scale systematic demographic study or survey has been done in India so far on this, and is urgently required,â€ť he asserts.
Mental Health 101: LGBTQIA+ Edition can be found here.