The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ+)community in India is steadily getting the attention that it deserves as we completed the one-year anniversary of the landmark Section 377 judgment.
According to current research, the core attraction that forms the basis of adult relationships emerges from mid-childhood to early adolescence. Everyone has their own stories and experiences when they realise about their emotional, romantic and sexual attraction, it may or may not be related to any prior sexual experiences, people might not have prior sexual experience and still know about their sexual orientation.
The American Psychology Association (APA) has rightfully quoted that no research has found an inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behaviour and homosexual behaviour are normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different cultures and historical eras.
Over the years, the LGBTQ+ community has faced intense prejudice, discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation. Prejudice and discrimination have both social and personal impacts. On a social level, the stereotypes and social stigmas, despite having any supportive evidence, can impact psychological health. Similarly, on an individual level, such prejudice and discrimination may also have a negative impact on their mental health, especially if the individuals attempt to conceal or deny their sexual orientation. The phrase ‘coming out’ can have several aspects to LGBTQ+ individuals. Sometimes individuals struggle with their self-awareness of their sexual orientation. They hesitate to come out of the shell because of the risks of facing prejudice and discrimination. ‘Coming out’ is often an important psychological step for LGBT people. Research has shown that feeling positive about one’s sexual orientation and integrating it into one’s life fosters greater well-being and mental health.
LGBTQ+ individuals are at great risk for poor mental health across developmental stages. Various research evidence has shown elevated rates of major depression, anxiety disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), substance use and abuse and suicidal ideations and attempts. In addition to the effects of stigma and discrimination, the LGBTQ+ population also often obtains mental health support for:
Gender dysphoria, a psychological condition experienced by individuals whose gender identity and expression does not match with the gender assigned at birth. Sexual identity issues refer to the emotions, thoughts, feelings, and fantasies that contribute to a person’s sexual or romantic attraction to another person. LGBTQ+ individuals often go through periods of questioning their sexual identity, which can cause confusion and stress. Also pertinent to the LGBTQ+ community and sexual identity issues is the “coming out” process, and coping with the reactions of friends and family. Various studies have shown, prejudice, more specifically prejudice against LGBTQ+ people consistently reduces when members of the majority group interact more with the minority group. Some of the instrumental ways in which you can contribute are as follows:
1) Educate yourself to increase your understanding. 2) Learn more about the LGBTQ+ community and their struggles 3) Learn more about the human rights laws and how they pertain to the LGBT population 4) Be supportive and encouraging to your family members, friends and peers 5) Speak up if you witness (or are the victim of) discrimination 6) Seek professional help 7) Share your experiences with others 9) Importance of therapy
In most of the cases, people with LGBT orientation who seek psychotherapy do so for the same reasons as heterosexual people, like, stress, relationship difficulties, difficulty adjusting to social or work situations, etc. Their sexual orientation may be of primary, incidental, or no importance to their issues and treatment and psychotherapy. Most often, LGBTQ+ affirmative therapy is applied to empower the individual in all areas of life and relationship; affirmative approach honours the challenges faced by them on a daily basis and navigates them in an effective way.
If you are facing any discomfort with your sexual orientation, people judging you, dilemma of how to ‘come out’, stress, anxiety or any other mental health conditions as a result of stigma and/or discrimination, getting support from a professional therapist can help you learn ways to better cope, feel less isolated, and establish overall mental health and well-being.
(The writer has more than five years of experience as mental health professional)