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What does being Queer mean for your mental health ?

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

Our Content Lead Delphine Martineau explores the correlation between Queerness and struggles with mental health in an interview with Mairnan, Snowflake's Editor-In-Chief.

Update: Following publication we have been contacted by Drugwatch; a free web resource that provides health information, guides and research on various medical conditions and unsafe drugs. They have provided a link to their incredible section on LGBTQIA+ specific medical crises, including their in-depth research on Mental Health issues within our community. You can find their entire section as well as a collection of resources by clicking here.

Mental Health awareness week takes place from Monday 15th to Sunday 21st of May in the UK. This event was created to provide various organisations the opportunity to raise awareness around the different mental health problems people face, try to encourage people to discuss their experiences, as well as shed light on the work they are doing to improve these people’s lives. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to explore what mental health can look like for people within the queer community and open up a conversation. After an overview of what mental health looks like for queer people, I then would like to share the experiences of our EIC Mairnan, who struggles with ADHD, EUPD and severe Anxiety. After the interview I will list some useful resources for queer people seeking mental health help.

Queerness and Mental Health

While there is a correlation between people with mental health problems and people who identify as queer, the Mental Health Foundation explains: “Being LGBTQIA+ doesn’t cause these problems''. It is often the oppression and discrimination that queer people encounter and suffer from that can lead to more mental health struggles. Stonewall ran a study in 2018 and found that half of LGBTQIA+ people had experienced depression and that three in five had experienced anxiety. Rethink, a mental health charity, also highlighted in an article that LGBTQIA+ people are at more risk of suicidal behaviour and self-harm than non-LGBTQIA+ people. These results highlight how crucial the conversation around mental health is for our community.

This is why I think open conversation as well as representation is very important. It is safe to assume that amongst your queer friends, it is highly likely that several of them are dealing with mental health challenges. Start the conversation, ask or discuss your own experiences; if we don’t talk about it, it is easy to assume that everyone else around you is living a life devoid of mental health issues.

When I mentioned wanting to write an article about mental health to our team, Mairnan was more than happy to share their journey with their own mental health.

2. Mairnan’s journey: Getting diagnosed with EUPD (Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder)

“When I was around fifteen, I started to realise that my responses and reactions to certain situations were often intense or disproportionate, and the way I processed emotions might be different to what my friends and partners were experiencing. Something made me a lot more miserable and prone to outbursts and conflict than the average person. I had partners tell me I was intense and friends saying it was difficult to be close to me. I was distrusting, shut off, and constantly felt like I was being attacked or punished for making mistakes. I was in so much emotional pain.”

However, when a seventeen year old Mairnan made the difficult first step to see a doctor, they were quickly dismissed by a simplified diagnosis.

I was told 'you’re depressed, you’re anxious, you just need sleep'

"I was told 'you’re depressed, you’re anxious, you just need sleep.' I was those things for sure, but it wasn’t the whole story. When I brought up my sexuality, I was railroaded into conversations about sexual health and given a mountain of pamphlets of things the doctor couldn't bring themselves to explain, the actual issue was quickly sidelined. After several visits across a few years I was given a lot of different medications, I tried most SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors) and different types of antidepressants, nothing touched the real issue.”

It’s only at twenty five, eight years later, that things changed once they were prescribed a mood stabiliser called Mirtazipine. For the first time, medication actually helped. This was a turning point in getting diagnosed and the speculation of doctors drifted closer to Bipolar disorder, Cyclothemia and Personality Disorders. They then received their diagnosis of EUPD. However, as the elation at feeling somewhat better faded, debilitating side effects kicked in, including feeling sleepy and groggy and numbing emotions/passions and interest in hobbies. “The first day I took Mirtazipine I slept for around 28 hours. As I got used to it, I slept less, but I would still need 10-16 hours of sleep, I hated feeling like I was sleeping away my life and even being awake felt like I was half asleep still. Eventually, after a couple years of that, I was referred to a specialist at a local mental health center, they took me off Mirtazipine and put me on Pregabalin [...] It seems to work well for my mental health. The key was finding a medication that worked for me, and unfortunately everyone needs to find exactly what works for them” Mairnan adds that this drug has been the most effective and stabilising, and that it has had much less of a sedative effect on them, and they can still be passionate about things without being overwhelmed by their emotions.

Mental health professionals often lack dedicated training to simply understand and respect queer people’s experiences.

Throughout our chat, it became clear that being queer was not the origin of Mairnan's struggle with their mental health, but it constituted an added challenge in receiving support and care. Not in and of itself, but rather because mental health professionals often lack dedicated training to simply understand and respect queer people’s experiences. Unfortunately, the heteronormative world we live in makes people like mental health professionals more likely to be judgmental or simply unaware of the differences that being queer makes in one’s life. “I’ve been misgendered many times, I have had doctors make assumptions about my body, my hormones or my genitals, and I have regularly had to correct medical professionals on the correct terminology or highlighted homophobic/transphobic undertones in their thinking, such as when I was told that ‘gay men are just generally more promiscuous.’ I have quite consistently had to field unrelated personal questions about coming out, my family, my relationships entirely at the whim of the doctor when they find out and it feels weird every single time when I have to tick ‘Other’ so much because both my sexuality and gender identity are absent on almost all forms."

Sometimes it just feels like a war on LGBTQIA+ people, a slow insidious one that chips away at morale with a smile and a ‘oh sorry I didn’t realise that was an issue’. It’s exhausting.

Things like this make it particularly difficult for non-binary and trans folks who face another layer of discrimination and danger when facing new healthcare professionals. Seeking help to improve your mental health demands a lot of courage so the prospect of your gender not being respected and welcomed properly doesn’t really make this decision easier. “I don’t know a single queer person who doesn’t have a horror story about a medical professional. Sometimes it’s being given incorrect and biased information about hormones, being told ‘feeling like you are trans is nothing but a challenge from god and should not be rectified with hormones and surgery’ (yes, a friend was really told that, by a pharmacist providing their HRT). Sometimes it’s transmen being refused things like emergency contraception ‘because I [the pharmacist] don’t know how it would interact with your HRT’. Sometimes it’s being messed around by surgery dates where extra years are often added due to demand or a change in who is allowed to perform these surgeries. Sometimes it is certain private doctors or practices you’re scheduled to work with being closed or made prohibitively more expensive by government legislature in response to some irrational fear of backyard boobjobs and amateur vaginectomies. I once had to explain to a sexual health clinician that 'two men can have v**inal sex, transmen exist' because both the sexual partner in question and I identified as male at the time, and the electronic form was designed for cis-gender gay men and removed most of the applicable options. Sometimes it just feels like a war on LGBTQIA+ people, a slow insidious one that chips away at morale with a smile and a ‘oh sorry I didn’t realise that was an issue’. It’s exhausting."

3. Finding the right mental health professionals

Mairnan then explained that the support they received for their mental health struggles had been entirely through the NHS in the UK. While it is an amazing public service that should be protected at all costs, it does come with its flaws. For example, depending on the practice there is often no possibility to choose which doctor you will be interacting with, and it can be a gamble as to whether this person will be accepting and aware of queerness. You often don’t get to choose between the nice smiling doctor you had last time who had the cute little pride flag enamel badge, and the other doctor you have seen before who showed a subtle grimace at every mention of your same sex partner. On queer forums and apps, it’s common to see people sharing contacts of certain charities, doctors, mental health specialists or therapists that are supportive and aware of queer people’s lives. This is why I thought I’d share a list of organisations that offer mental health services for queer people. This is by no means exhaustive so please do reach out if you’d like to add other resources that you think people would benefit from.

Professional Services/Organisations:

Many of these services are based in the UK, if you would like to recommend services that serve other parts of the world please don't hesitate to email us.

  • MindOut is a mental health service run by and for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ) people.

  • Pink Therapy is an independent therapy organisation working with gender and sexual diversity clients which provides a directory to easily find a queer-supportive therapist.

  • Switchboard is an LGBT+ information and support helpline.

  • London Friend is a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans charity working to support the health and mental wellbeing of the LGBT community in and around London.

  • LGBT Foundation offers different services to support the queer community.

Forums and Spaces:

As with all online meeting and discussion spaces, please use caution and common sense when interacting with the contents. Ensure you get confirmation from multiple sources on any advice and if there is risk of harm, please consult a medical professional:

  • If you just need a bit of friendly non-professional advice, the subreddits r/LGBT and r/asktransgender are often full of other LGBTQIA+ people happy to share their experiences or thoughts.

  • If more traditionally structured forums are your thing, the Empty Closets Forum and LGBTHero Forum host a veritable library of Alexandria of, advice, support, Q&As, rants and rambles from all corners of our community.

Being queer in a heteronormative world can be challenging and painful, which is why it is so important to make use of these resources and to prioritise our mental wellbeing via self-care. We need more of us, and more of us that aren’t burnt out and barely surviving.

There are more commonly known ways of self-care, such as a healthier sleep routine that suits your brain and adjusting your diet and your exercise habits without pressure or shame, but a very crucial aspect of self-care is also building community, feeling love and support from friends and people who you relate to. Joining a support group, a LGBTQIA+ society at university or volunteering with a queer charity are ways to connect with people who share experiences and can really help improve your mental health. Join a queer sports team, find a table of queers to play board games or TTRPGS with, or even reach out to your favourite artists and writers that were published in a queer magazine you like.

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