Looking at mental health in the queer community

Looking at mental health in the queer community

Imagine growing up with an innate feeling of being different than most people around yourself. Add to that feeling a host of negative, derogatory messages all around putting down that very sense of self. Such is the early awareness and experience of most queer folk the world over.

I myself have been aware of being different from the other boys in school and my community. I was bullied and teased for being sensitive, artistic and effeminate. The abuse was not only verbal but also physical on many occasions. This rejection was compounded by my family’s non-acceptance when I came out to them. Fear, shame, dread about the future and disappointment in myself and the predicament I found myself in was at times overwhelming.

Sexuality and gender are fundamental to an individual’s functions and relations to the world with other human beings. It plays a significant role in one’s understanding of oneself and one’s place in society. When this sense is challenged and put down in sometimes the most demeaning of ways, it has a profound impact on a person’s psyche and mental health. It leads to many psychological and mental health problems, such as body dysmorphia, social anxiety, agoraphobia, anxiety and depression and many other behavioural issues, including self-harm.

Very little research has been done in India on the mental health of the queer community, so we have to heavily rely on the extensive research done on the mental health of members of the LGBTQIA+ community in the West in the US, the UK and Europe. One finds that queer folk are three times more likely to suffer from acute anxiety and depression and five times more likely to contemplate suicide.

Few have safe places to express themselves fully and freely. Most feel rejected by family and the community where they grew up. Those places and structures that provided nurturing support in childhood now begin to feel alien and hostile in puberty, adolescence and adulthood, leaving individuals with an acute sense of isolation and sometimes desperation.

Incidents of teenage suicide are significantly higher in queer teens than in straight ones, so much so that a campaign #itgetsbetter was started to address this issue in the US. Many queer young people have faced not just bullying but also abuse of a sexual nature. One can imagine that such abuse has a profound lifelong impact on one’s psychological well-being.

Queer people have few strongholds of support. In India, which has just decriminalised non-vaginal, non-procreative intercourse and has sanctioned consensual sex between adult human beings, one is hopeful that more places of refuge and support will now become available to queer folk within their communities, families and places of work. Diversity and inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people is being talked about a lot more.

When an atmosphere and culture of acceptance and affirmation is created, I feel that will provide a more fertile ground for better mental health, not just for the queer community but also for society as a whole.