LGBTQ+ Mental Health – Working with Happy Valley Pride

Proud to work with Happy Valley Pride - Image bordered with Progress Pride Flag - Sarah Long mental health and wellbeing logo - MHFA Instructor member logo

As I gradually return to face to face work, I’m remembering the pros and cons of training to a room of real life humans. Most of the cons are to do with travel and the amount of energy it takes to get places and then train for two long days. So I was delighted to be able to do a course on home ground in Hebden Bridge – even more so that it was a group from our local LGBTQ+ organisation, Happy Valley Pride.

Perfect for Pride month of course. But I have been working with Happy Valley Pride for a while now on a number of mental health related projects, as part of their Mind Your Head Campaign in partnership with The Brunswick Centre. During the pandemic, we discussed the impact that lockdown was having on the LGBTQ+ community, I ran a pair of webinars – first on anxiety, and then depression as we approached the festive season, which isn’t always the easiest time.

Sarah was a key part of our very first Mind Your Head event back in December 2022, an online panel discussion looking at many of the issues around LGBTQ+ mental health. Since then the campaign has grown and evolved considerably and Sarah continued to play an important role.

She has hosted online sessions on both anxiety and depression. More recently she  provided Mental Health First Aid training for volunteers. The feedback has been so positive.

Her style and approach is down to earth and she has an amazing ability to make what is often a complex and difficult topic so accessible. She has helped provide many people with tools and techniques to help them with their own mental health and a greater understanding of how to help others.

Malcolm Struthers – Happy Valley Pride

And now this past week we finally had the opportunity to do something in person, and we now have 9 brand spanking new Mental Health First Aiders equipped to support themselves, their friends, families and colleagues.

It was genuinely one of the nicest groups I’ve ever worked with – lovely, thoughtful and considerate people. Happy Valley Pride do wonderful work in the Calder Valley, including the week long festival which returns on 25th-31st July this year – there are always a good variety of interesting activities and events to suit all tastes.

Working with Happy Valley Pride is very important to me – I am a member of the LGBTQ+ community – people don’t always realise because I am a Bi woman in a heterosexual marriage, currently very Cis-femme presenting but that doesn’t really reflect my inner feelings of gender, which are more fluid, or non-binary. My sexual orientation has interacted with my mental health in many ways, positive and negative over the years – and I am not alone.

Statistics around the prevalence of mental ill health within the LGBTQ+ community are not happy reading. It is not being LGBTQ+ which causes mental illness, but rather our experiences of stress, discrimination and trauma. We in the UK have made great progress even since I was at school 30-40 years ago. But things are still not perfect, and the backlash and desire to push us back into the shadows can still be felt. Even where people may be accepting of Lesbian, Gay, Bi/Pan people – we see Trans and Non-Binary siblings experiencing horrendous prejudice and hate.

Hebden Bridge is a bit of an oasis in some ways – we have a higher than average LGBTQ+ population due to a large number of lesbians deciding to make the town their home since the 70s. The town’s history and demographics are fascinating. Not to say we are without tensions or homophobia – but there are many young people growing up here in families with much more progressive attitudes around identity than is the case in some other areas – and was the case when I was growing up. Hopefully they will become adults in a world where their rights and safety are secure – and where they are able to thrive. Hopefully their mental health will be better than their predecessors.

Even if we never experience any discrimination or negativity, the sad fact is, that growing up in a homophobic world, or a world where we are worried we may be rejected by those we love – increases our chance of mental ill health. Much of Mental illness is about feeling unsafe. Feeling threatened. From the moment you realise you are not the heterosexual, or Cis person the world generally assumes you to be – you start to wonder what it will mean for you. You look at the world for cues of what to expect, and the world warns you that there may be trouble ahead. The better your relationship with family and friends, the more you fear losing them by revealing your truth. So your anxiety grows. Hopefully without cause. Hopefully coming out is received with warmth and love and you live happily ever after and are able to fully express the many facets of your true self joyfully and with pride.

But we know that isn’t always the case. We know people are rejected by family and friends sometimes. Or even if not, that relationships can be strained and difficult. That we may not have the supportive network that others rely on. We may experience many different forms of prejudice from different directions. In work, in the streets, when seeking services. It is a sad fact that 1 in 4 LGBTQ+ people have witnessed healthcare workers making negative comments about LGBTQ+ people. Even worse, 1 in 20 were pressured by healthcare workers to access “conversion therapy” type services while seeking other health support. – not surprising then that 1 in 7 avoid healthcare for fear of discrimination.

Meeting people & socialising in the LGBTQ+ community has for many been heavily dependent on alcohol based settings – and drugs of different kinds have also become widely used. This adds to the risk of mental health difficulties, and also increases the chance that people may act on urges to self harm, or suicidal thoughts. Which are common. In the wider community it is estimated that 1 in 5, or around 20% of people consider suicide at some point. Figures in the LGBTQ+ community are much higher – from 28% of Lesbian or Gay people contemplating suicide, almost half of trans people, and 70% of LGBT young people aged 18-24 thinking “life was not worth living”. One in eight of this same group had attempted to end their own life in the previous year. Rates are higher in trans and non binary people than non-trans LGB people – higher in Bisexual people than lesbian or gay. Rates also increase when we look at intersectionality – where LGBTQ+ people also have other factors of diversity – such as being Black, or People of Colour – and/or Disabled, or in less privileged socio-economic class divisions.

12% Trans
2% LGB non Trans
11% Non Binary
8% Disabled
7% C2DE social group

We see higher levels of all mental health diagnoses – I’m in the process of gathering statistics for a new data page – but here are some snippets to be going on with:

LGBTQ+LBT WomenGBT MenLGBLesbianGay MenBi/PanBi WomenBi MenTransNon-Binary
Self Harm48%20%12%14%14%7%28%18%35%41%
Eating Disorders12.5%13%9%30%25%

All of the above are why I am passionate about building a world where people can grow up free to explore and express themselves without prejudice and judgement. Only when people are supported and celebrated from the word go, and protected from cruelty and discrimination, do we have a chance of escaping some of these figures. Do we ensure people grow up secure and with a strong sense of self, identity, self esteem and belonging. Able to navigate the rocky waters of life, the unavoidable difficulties and challenges, without being hampered by a trail of unnecessary and avoidable trauma.

Mental Health First Aid helped me to understand how my experiences had shaped my own mental health, and also gives me empathy to consider how the events of the world impact the mental wellbeing of others, and confidence to offer support.

A wide range of local and national LGBTQ+ support organisations can be found in my resources pages – please let me know of any others you are aware of.

Come join me on an online course over the summer – or contact me to discuss training options for your organisation, workplace or group.

Upcoming Dates:

Online Mental Health First Aid: (Four 3hr sessions)

13th, 14th, 20th, 21st July 2022
26th-29th July 2022
2nd-5th August 2022
6th-9th September 2022

Online MHFA Refresher: (Half Day)
Fri 15th July 2022
Fri 22nd July 2022
Fri 29th July 2022
Fri 5th August 2022
… (More dates available)

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