Mental Health Problems In The LGBTQ+ Community

This is just a little note to say that this post mentions incidents involving self harm so if that would trigger you, I thank you very much for joining us today but maybe go and treat yourself to a good cup of tea and biscuits instead. Safety first pals!

I once had a psychologist who, during a talk about my mental health and how broken my brain is, asked me if I thought any of my issues “were because of being gay”. I was appalled.

“How dare you!” I replied. “What homophobic nonsense is this? I am deeply offended! You think people who are gay must also be mad because nobody with common sense would be queer? For-shame! A plague unto you and your ancestors! Watch me flounce out of this room waving my rainbow flag in a fury! Watch me flounce I say!” (please note that this was what I replied in my head…in reality I think I just squinted my eyes a bit and formed a quizzical expression).

At the time I didn’t see what being a member of the LGBTQ+ club, had to do with my mental health at all, but after a little bit of discussion, research, and no actual flouncing, I realised that this psychologist was on to something.
Turns out, rainbow folk in general show higher levels of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts than heterosexuals, so seeing as it is Pride month in the UK this month, I thought I would use this post to think about why that might be. It’s like that old saying, “if you are gay and you have mental health problems, it is your duty to mush those experiences together and write a blog about it.”

In my experience,I wouldn’t say that for me personally, being a member of the LGBTQ+ community has been THE trigger that led to all of my personal mental health problems, although I know that for some people, it can be.
Often I think it can be things like homophobic bullying and external discrimination that are the reason people who are LGBTQ+ might go on to suffer problems, and in that respect, I have been very lucky.
I have never been bullied for my sexuality, my family have always been very accepting (my mum to the point where she is basically a walking gay pride parade all year round and always gets very excited/becomes a fan every time any celebrity comes out as a homosexual), and I live in a country/time period where it is safe for me to be “out” without fearing arrest.
The only discrimination I have ever had has been the odd homophobic slur shouted out of a car window at me as I was walking down the street, but this has never really bothered me as I don’t have that much respect for the opinions of people who shout abuse out of car windows… I might admire their ability to project with their vocal chords out of a moving vehicle, but when it comes to their judgements on who I fall in love with, frankly, I don’t give a damn.

However being LGBTQ+ has certainly affected me because of discrimination, it is just that all of that discrimination came from my own head and in the early days of my queerness, led me to feeling very ashamed.
Nobody in my external surroundings was telling me I was weird or shouldn’t be gay, but my head was, and consequently I was scared to tell anyone about it incase they felt the same. Indeed I decided that rather than tell anyone, I would start a grand “make Katie straight” mission so that nobody would ever have to find out. You may wonder how on earth one goes about “de-gaying themselves” as surely to do so is impossible, and in that assumption, you would be right. Little old me however, was convinced otherwise.

The idea came to me whilst watching a television program which funnily enough, was about a straight woman seeing if she could undergo treatment to turn her gay…Good lord they show some weird things on TV these days…
Anyway, in the program, this woman was told by some mad scientist to use this machine that would give her electric shocks every time she thought something heterosexual in an attempt to recondition the brain to stop thinking those things. The theory was that if your brain experiences an electric shock every time you think about something, it will stop thinking about that thing (either that or your hair will stick out all over the place forevermore and you will run up one hell of an electricity bill).
Unfortunately, I did not have an electric shock machine. I did however, have access to a lot of sharp things around my household, and I think you can guess how things went from there without me providing any more detail. As part of my “make Katie straight” plan, I set about trying to literally cut the gay part away from me, a futile pursuit considering “gayness” is not an extra body part or a long fingernail you can clip away at until it is gone. Unsurprisingly, that plan didn’t work, but it did get me into a cycle of self harm that I couldn’t get away from and still struggle with to this day.

Admittedly, my struggle with self harm is not about being gay anymore, but the whole situation introduced the idea of self harm as a punishment, a coping mechanism to try and remove guilt or shame I was feeling about anything in life.
Rather than being a punishment for being gay, it has become a punishment for things like bad marks on a test at school, or saying something mean in an argument, and I actually used to keep a little notebook in my pocket throughout the day to keep track of my “crimes” so I knew how many “punishments” I deserved later.
At first I was only doing a few things “wrong” a day, but because I was scared to talk to any of my psychologists about it as that would involve telling them how self harm started, and though I was ok with being gay, I didn’t expect everyone else to be. Consequently the notebook of punishments escalated and got so out of hand that after a few months, every action was considered a crime deserving of punishment, from using a “large blob of toothpaste” (which would use up the family tube sooner and lead to money needing to be spent on a new one), to “not smiling well enough at my friend in the corridor at school”.

It wasn’t until my mum found some blood soaked clothing in my bag which I had been trying to smuggle into school to wash in the school sink before she could see it in the laundry, that the whole self harm as punishment thing came out, and even then I wouldn’t tell people how it had started.
By the time I did tell people that I was gay, I had already been in therapy for 8 years or so and had been through two admissions to psychiatric hospitals, always keeping that part of my identity hidden. Like I said, being gay has never been a cornerstone in the almighty Jenga tower of my insanity so I don’t think that keeping that part of me a secret severely hindered my treatment. I was still able to talk openly and honestly about the depression, OCD, BPD related problems and anorexia in therapy, yet although it isn’t the source of my mental health problems, when I finally came out to professionals it did serve as some kind of relief. Whether it had been important to OCD or not, I always had to watch what I said in sessions incase I accidentally let a possible clue slip like “I LOVE HELENA BONHAM CARTER AND I WANT TO MARRY HER IN A BIG GAY WEDDING WITH A BIG RAINBOW CAKE BECAUSE I AM A BIG GAY MYSELF”. Being able to talk openly without worrying about that certainly made a difference and made me feel more connected to my therapists, because I think if you are ever keeping a secret from anyone, you are automatically reserved around people even when that secret isn’t being discussed.

As you can see then, compared to some members of the LGBTQ+ community with mental health problems, being queer hasn’t had anywhere near the impact on me that it has on other people. In essence, being gay is the vanilla extract in my giant cake of insanity rather than the flour of which the majority of the cake comprises.
That said there are a lot of LGBTQ+ folk out there who struggle so much with their identity either due to judgement from outside sources or internal judgement on themselves, that being LGBTQ+ can be a direct cause of certain conditions like depression or anxiety and it is for these people that we need to talk more about this kind of thing in the hopes that they will be able to seek help themselves. If shame about your identity leads you to having mental health problems, it is likely that shame will prevent you from seeking help for them, and as we all know that is just going to make things worse.

In this post I do not want to do a shoutout to all the LGBTQ+ people out there who are hiding in the bushes and tell them to run about telling everyone about their identity, because I understand that for some people in certain families or countries, that might not be safe for them.
All I want to say is that if you are struggling and feeling like there is nobody to turn to, you are not alone and I can promise you that there are people out there who understand (I am one of them. Hello, it is nice to meet you. My name is Katie and if you bring me penguins we can be best friends). If being LGBTQ+ is causing mental health problems and it is not safe for you to speak to people around you, there are hundreds of LGBTQ+ mental health charities out there for every country (I will link a page recommending some existing in the UK below), and if you can, I would encourage you to reach out to them for support.
I am not going to demand you just get a rainbow flag and feel proud because it is pride month, as I understand it is not as easy as that, but I do hope to offer some sense of reassurance that being LGBTQ+ is NOT something anyone needs to to be ashamed of or punished for, no matter what that voice in your head tells you.

Take care everyone x

RainbowBlog

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/lgbtq-mental-health/useful-contacts/#.WV0XKlKZPVo

 

Are People With Mental Health Problems “Really Disabled”?

If you live in the UK and follow the news when it comes to anything mental health related, you will probably be aware of a certain Tory MP named George Freeman (not the guy who made grills. That was George Forman. He was so proud of his grills that he put his name on them don’t you know). Anyway, this Freeman bloke has been in the news a lot this past week, due to his recent comments regarding the rights of people with mental health problems claiming benefits.

Initially I wasn’t going to make a post about this, as thankfully a lot of people were angered by what he said on the issue, and therefore there have been many posts on the internet addressing why his opinions are so misguided. Having read a few of these posts I couldn’t help but think “well I don’t need to say anything about it because at least one other person has said it for me”, but then I realised that when a crowd of voices chant the same thing, it is a hell of a lot louder than any noise made by a single individual (unless that individual is armed with a giant and extremely powerful microphone…Alas, such things are often reserved for people with power who have no idea what they are talking about…ahem…)
I also wasn’t going to post about it because since his damaging comment, our old buddy George (again, not the one with the grills), has retracted all of the nonsense he has been spouting. Maybe then I should forgive the poor chap, as clearly he regrets his statements (or just realised that everybody hated him for being such an idiot and thus backed down on opinions he was so passionate about, to avoid being glared at in the streets…I guess we will never know…).
However the damaging comments made by Mr Freeman are unfortunately not anything new, nor any revelatory belief shared by nobody else before him. They are comments that a lot of the public have probably felt and said in private themselves, it’s just those people  didn’t have the microphones allowing everyone to hear. So I am writing this as much for them as it is for my buddy George (starting to wish I was referring to the other George as my buddy now…I could use a free grill.)

So what are these comments that have outraged so many and that are damaging to society’s view of those who suffer from mental health problems? Well, they are about people who are unable to work due to mental health problems claiming benefits, and how their payments should be stopped in order to save the money for the “really disabled”.
It is funny actually that this has come up at this time as it was just last week before this controversy started, that I filled out a form applying for benefits myself. For years therapists have encouraged me to fill out these forms and claim what they thought I was entitled to, yet I have always refused because even though I knew they were right, the thought of officially asking for support for being disabled made me feel incredibly guilty. I think over the years you cannot help but internalise some of the stigma lying around these days, just as if you tell someone enough times that they have a big nose they will eventually start to believe you even if their nose is the tiniest nose of all time.

Though I have always been aware of my inability to work, I have still felt an internal judgement and feel that maybe I am just being silly and that I am not “really disabled”.
A wheelchair user may not be able to open a door that is at the top of a flight of stairs because they are physically unable to walk. I however am physically able to walk up those stairs, yet still I am also unable to open that door. Physically I could, yet still, mentally, the fear is so strong that I can’t. Really the brain shouldn’t be viewed as any less “real” than your average limb as technically the organ of the brain is a physical part of the body as much as a leg is. Still I suppose it is a lot harder to remember that when it is hidden behind a thick skull and an “I am OK” mask, unlike a broken leg which is far more visible. If you can see a giant green face claiming to be the Wizard of Oz, it is infinitely easier to believe in that reality over the invisible little man controlling the illusion behind it (if your name is Dorothy at least. I saw through that Wizard all along. Dorothy was silly…and her little dog was too!).

This being the case then, my brain often being the cause of my inability to perform basic actions like feeding myself or opening doors, how is that not disabled? I don’t claim to be an expert in the English Language (although I did study english literature and I read Moby Dick which is a HUGE book with a lot of long words), but when you look at the definition of the term “disabled”, I think that it makes clear that George and those agreeing with his views do not really understand what the word means, hence their belief that someone with mental health problems is not “really disabled”. When you look it up, the dictionary states that to be disabled means to be a person who has a “physical or mental condition that limits their movements, senses or activities. So lets examine this:

1. Do I have a mental condition – Yes

2. Do these conditions limit my movements – Yes. I cannot open doors or move around in public without an aid supporting me through the anxiety, much like a wheelchair user may struggle to be mobile without their aid, aka the chair.

3. Do these conditions limit my activities – Considering I am often able to leave the house/partake in normal life, yes.

Yet according to certain MPs, I am not “really disabled”? I am sorry George, are you arguing with the dictionary? I totally support your right to free speech but are you sure you want to do that? It is a really big book (even bigger than Moby Dick), and if you start arguing with a dictionary then all the words in your argument technically lose all meaning and thus you will be making no sense…are you sure you want to do that George? Gibbering nonsense to a book would look awfully weird…people may start to think you were mentally ill!
If people without mental health problems are not “really disabled” then what are we? Just playing some sick game of dress up like I pretended to be a vet with my very own stethoscope when I was younger and made it my business to treat all of my teddy bears (rest assured, I may have been pretending then but I was very skilled and all my patients made full recoveries).

Tell me then, if I am unable to leave the house or touch things in public and spend most of my time fighting demons, a pastime that leaves me utterly exhausted and often a bit soggy with tears, what job would you recommend I try? What job would I be able to do effectively on the days that I am so depressed and suicidal that I cannot leave my house let alone contribute to society? Any ideas? The only job I could think of would be that of performer in a freak show, where people could come to my house and pay to see the hysterical sobbing mess in the corner who is so deluded they fear eating with a knife or fork. Is that what you want? (Even if that is the plan I would still need benefits anyway…If I have to be in a freak show I at least need a sequinned leotard. THOSE THINGS DON’T COME CHEAP FREEMAN.)

In a way, I suppose George being so vocal with his misguided opinions could turn out to be a good thing. Like I said, I am sure that he is by no means the only person who feels this way about people with mental health problems receiving benefits, and by speaking out about it, it has given us crazy folk an opportunity to respond publicly and tackle the stigma that before now has existed only in people’s homes behind closed doors. People make these statements all the time and are never challenged, yet now the words are out in the open, we have a public platform on which we can talk back and educate those who may not understand how debilitating mental health problems can be. Maybe we can use this as an opportunity to do good.

So here I am, standing on my public internet platform speaking into my megaphone as someone with mental health problems and for others with mental health problems. To Mr Freeman and all of his supporters, I have one thing to say.

*STEPS UP TO MEGAPHONE*

“As sufferers of mental health problems, I will admit that our disabilities may be invisible, but our struggles are real. The pain in our heads is real. Nobody is pretending, nobody is playing games and we honestly are, “really disabled”.

*DROPS MEGAPHONE AND STORMS OFF PUBLIC PLATFORM LIKE A BOSS*

Take care everyone x

georgefreeman