With the end of the decade, it is important to look back on conversations around the mental health of LGBT+ people. Mental health issues have often been portrayed as personal problems which must be resolved behind closed doors and out of sight. There is a stigma attached to the topic that has been carried over from the past, silencing people from speaking out about their experiences.
After the historic passing of same-sex marriage, it felt like a moment of release as the community and its allies celebrated by expressing their overwhelming joy. On the surface, it signalled a reward for years of fighting for recognition. However, the launch of the LGBT Ireland Report a year later acted as a harrowing reminder that there were still a large number of problems which were overlooked. The findings showed 70 percent of young people had suicidal thoughts, and one in three had attempted suicide.
Speaking at the launch of the Report, the former President of Ireland, Dr Mary McAleese, said, “This scholarly report is as essential and revealing as it is horrifying. The ongoing damage is undeniable. That it involves so many young people is tragic. That it is solvable is the good news.”
As Dr McAleese describes it, the findings revealed the “secret world of suff ering” still prevalent within Irish society. Even after post-marriage equality, in a new, seeminglyprogressive, country, there is a fear about speaking out on issues regarding mental health, rather, the topic is cast aside and buried beyond reach.
In 2018, BeLonG To Youth Services published research findings showing that 90 percent of LGBT+ young people struggle with their mental health, 46 percent surveyed described feeling pressure to appear happy in a post-marriage equality Ireland, while an estimated 56 percent of respondents spoke about feeling the need to come across as content after they came out due to the fear of causing their family or friends to worry.
The research survey was commissioned as part of the Better Out Than In campaign launch. Following the release of the findings, BeLonG To Youth Services Executive Director, Moninne Griffith, said: “Once we learned that 80 percent of LGBT+ youth are afraid to reach out for help when struggling with their mental health, the necessity of the Better Out Than In campaign became glaringly apparent. We know that anxiety and depression can form part of the LGBT+ youth experience, and we want to send a message to LGBT+ youth that this doesn’t mean they just have to accept it and struggle alone. Taking the brave step of opening up to someone you trust about your worries and fears is worth it.”
Previous campaigns launched by BeLonG To include the annual Stand Up Awareness Week, which is dedicated to advocating against anti-LGBT+ bullying within education.
Throughout a person’s life, spaces such as the home, school, and work play a key role in the development of both positive and negative mental health. In 2019, the School Climate Survey revealed that 73 percent of students feel unsafe in secondary school, with one participant stating, “When kids know you are trans they don’t see you as male or female or human. am pretty much a one-man zoo. can’t change this fact and I’m pretty suicidal because of it.” Due to this hostile environment, 27 percent of students are more likely to miss school days and 49 percent expressed feeling lonely when they did go. As Ireland revels in its progressive and inclusive attitudes, there is a tendency to overlook a lineage of anti-LGBT+ attitudes extending out from the past. Rather than acknowledging the trauma which has come before, it is at times glossed over.
In 2011, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) published the first of its kind research report, Visible Lives, looking into the experiences of elderly LGBT+ people.
20.6 percent of participants expressed their discomfort to coming out, with 26.6 percent stating their reason was a fear of harassment and 34.6 percent fearful of friends rejecting them. One person said, “I often think if was to go back 15 or 16 years to the way was living in the environment was living in…I was very unhappy… My health would give. I’d be completely stressed out; couldn’t handle it. So today, I’m totally relaxed and I’d tackle anything. have no problems and just am who am.”
Mental health issues arise for myriad reasons, whether it is due to external or internal circumstances. At times, there can be a pervasive feeling that there is nowhere else to turn, that nothing can be done. The emergence of such problems create a disruption to a person’s everyday life, impacting upon their social interactions with others, as one person stated in the Visible Lives report, “I believe because was suicidal, it’s not because of my gender identity disorder. It was because of the disorder of society not accepting me.”
It is vital to break through the silence and speak out. A person openly sharing their story of struggling with mental health has an incredible power because this shows the first step towards identifying the issue and being able to find the best resources to help. The act of opening up reveals an often hidden community, showing that no one person is truly alone in their experiences, as one participant in the Visible Lives survey states, “We’re resilient…I think the way I’ve coped is about a sense of balance…You need a whole range of diff erent ingredients…You need to mix the diff erent elements to deal with it.”
The annual Health at a Glance report 2018 showed Ireland had one of the highest rates of mental health problems in Europe. The findings acted as a rallying cry for European countries to place a greater focus on addressing the problem, as, in 2016, one in six people, averaging to 84 million, spoke about suffering from a psychological illness.
Before the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993, Ireland had a limited number of support services in place for LGBT+ people. Since then, there has been an exponential growth of groups focused on helping and bringing together the community. The multitude of organisations currently in existence are the result of the rapid social changes within Irish society and legislation, yet despite the positive outcomes on the surface, there are still dangerous undercurrents below.
Throughout the years, there have been worrying reports that consultant psychiatry posts remain vacant, with 61 positions reported as empty in 2018. Due to a lack of action in remedying the dearth of support networks (attributed in 2012 to budget cuts) people seeking support are trapped on a waiting list.
Fianna Fáil’s mental health spokesperson, James Browne, said in the Dáil in 2018, “Unless the high vacancy rate is tackled, the Government is walking the health service into a series of crises, worse than what is already being experienced.” However, Budget 2020 has been heavily criticised for still failing to address this problem.
Reacting to the announcement of said Budget, CEO of Mental Health Reform, Shari McDaid, said, “It is very concerning that during World Mental Health Week, the Government has failed to deliver extra services to address the mental health crisis in Budget 2020. Instead, two thirds of the increase of €39 million announced yesterday will go towards pay increases and addressing existing levels of service, and not towards new developments that are desperately needed.”
Stagnation is a factor of negative mental health as it is a claustrophobic feeling of being stuck in place. In the absence of forward movement, there can be nowhere to go but inwards. On a legislative level, this has plagued Irish politics where an illusion of progress is favoured over the actual act. But here we are at the beginning of a new decade and, hopefully, by understanding what has come before, necessary and crucial steps can be taken. Ireland’s National Mental Health Strategy, A Vision for Change (AVFC), is undergoing changes to meet demands specific to the LGBT+ community, including tailored interventions and an in-depth framework for cultural, diversity and gender competency. As stated by the HSE, “Although the policy advocates a population health approach and contains universal recommendations that benefit everyone in society, it also acknowledges that additional work is required to promote positive mental health and build resilience amongst specific priority groups, deemed to be at risk.”
Moving forward can be a scary idea in the face of uncertainty. There is a worry integral to the thought of ‘where do we go now’. However, through awareness and recognition, strength can be found, whether from within or through a strong support network, to face whatever comes next.
If you were aff ected by any of the issues highlighted in this article you can reach out to the following:
1890 929 539 www.lgbt.ie
TENI Helpline (Transgender Support)
085 147 7166 www.teni.ie
Gay Switchboard 01 72 1055
1800 247 247