We’re about to embark on Pride month – thirty days to celebrate and commemorate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) people, to recognise the impact LGBTQ+ people have had on history and culture, and to acknowledge the past and ongoing adversity the community faces.
Ok, I get it, let’s celebrate!
But why is this important and what does it have to do with mental health?
Well, consider this – 83% of LBGTQ people still hide their sexual orientation.
Yes, societal attitudes towards sexual minorities have improved in the last few decades, and yes, LGBTQ+ visibility and rights have made progress. However, studies show that LGBTQ+ individuals, and especially LGBTQ+ youth, still face disproportionate mental health burdens with significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidality. This isn’t because these individuals are inherently prone to poor mental health, but because LGBTQ+ people tend to have lower rates of self-acceptance and experience the effects of minority stress.
Minority stress is the chronic social stress that LGBTQ+ people are exposed to day-in-day-out, ranging from prejudice to negative stereotyping, hostility, harassment, rejection, limited rights from laws and policies, stigma, internalised homophobia – the list is long.
All these micro-aggressions mean something, they build and chip away at our self-esteem, our wellbeing, and positive development. This societal stigma, discrimination, and rejection from family and friends contributes to lower rates of self-acceptance amongst LGBTQ+ people, and in turn leads to higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicidality, and substance abuse in the community.
The Rainbow Reality
With these societal challenges, it’s not surprising that the vast majority of LGBTQ+ people are still hiding. However, living a hidden life and concealing one’s true identity is significantly associated with depression and negative psychological wellbeing.
So how do we reconcile with our identity and overcome the shame? How do we manage the stress of living in a society that often doesn’t accept or validate our identities, as well as the trauma of discrimination, bullying, harassment, and violence, plus the potential lack of support and acceptance from family and peers?
Where to Begin?
Changing societal norms is hard, although so many people are doing incredible work to improve equality. Putting this aside, we are able to create change within ourselves and we are in control of the way we understand and respond to our world.
The challenges that LGBTQ+ people face can lead to feelings of isolation, discrimination, rejection, shame, and low self-esteem. Exploring these thoughts and feelings about your identity can be difficult and uncomfortable. That’s where counselling can help, providing a safe space to do the hard work, with empathy and encouragement.
A counsellor can help you challenge your negative thoughts about your sexuality and instead engage in affirmation of your identity, visibility, and validation of your experiences. Evidence-based approaches such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can help shift problematic thought patterns, and teach coping skills or alternative ways to think, behave, and react to situations and experiences.
The Road to Self-Acceptance
Regardless of sexual identity, mental wellbeing improves when we feel respected, valued and psychologically safe. Self-acceptance is the act of acknowledging who you are, in all your fabulous and flawed glory. It is an essential part of living a fulfilling life.
Sadly, research shows lower rates of self-acceptance among LGBTQ+ people. Importantly, low self-esteem is unlikely to blame for this lower rate of self-acceptance among LGBTQ+ people. Instead, the adverse opinions, prejudice, and victimization that many LGBTQ+ people face is what poses significant obstacles to self-acceptance.
It’s challenging to avoid internalizing negative society attitudes and ideas when constantly exposed to negative messaging about queer identity. These internalized messages have the potential to lead to increasing self-criticism and negative self-perceptions over time. Our individual lack of self-acceptance is ultimately caused by this social lack of acceptance.
But where to start?
- Educate and celebrate
Learn about the LGBTQ+ community, its history, and the challenges still being faced. There is culture and connection waiting for you. Validate and celebrate your identity and the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community. You belong here.
- Connect with others and build a support system
You are not alone. Find your own LGBTQ+ community, whether through in-person support groups or online. Surround yourself with people who accept you and support you, whether it’s friends, family, or allies. Join in Pride events and affirm your identity.
- Practice self-care and compassion
Be kind to yourself – we are always harder on ourselves and more generous with others. Take care of yourself physically and mentally. Eat well, sleep well, and engage in activities that bring you joy.
- Challenge negative thoughts and your inner critic
When we hear things frequently, we start to believe them. Identify your inner critic – that little voice inside your head that tells you you’re not good enough – and tell it to shut up. Replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations. Try journaling to identify problem patterns, reflect, and express yourself authentically.
- Identify your personal values and goals
Redefine yourself according to your own values. Embrace your authentic self and live your life in a way that feels true to you. Addressing self-blame and shame, affirming your own identity, and validating your experiences fosters self-acceptance and helps develop resilience against past, present, and future adversity.
Doing the hard work
Don’t kid yourself, none of this is easy. Finding self-acceptance and establishing a positive identity is difficult, but it is a vital source of resilience. Counselling provides a supportive and safe space to explore feelings, process emotions, and develop coping strategies. It can help LGBTQ+ people better understand their sexual orientation and gender identity, and work through experiences of discrimination or rejection. Finding your pride is much deeper than a month on the calendar, true self-acceptance is key to improving mental wellbeing and a happier, healthier life.
So if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health challenges related to their LGBTQ+ identity, consider reaching out to a counsellor for support.
Support and Spaces
- PrideLine 24hr hotline for LGBTQ+ support: https://prideline.tungwahcsd.org/servers.php?id=2&lang_id=2
- Queer Reads Library: LGBTQ+ mobile library: https://www.instagram.com/queer_reads_library/
- Mum’s Not Home: Queer Cafe in Yau Ma Tei: https://www.instagram.com/mumsnothome/
- Pink Alliance: https://pinkalliance.hk/
- Out in HK: LGBTQ+ outdoor adventures community: https://www.facebook.com/groups/outinhk
- Rainbow Families HK: https://www.facebook.com/groups/RainbowFamiliesofHK/
- Pink Dot HK annual event (October): https://pinkdothk.com/?fbclid=IwAR1wtqKeqs5FWFFdH3sz0M-kQ_QKrTE4mPOockD2EaKLValMHu6gGkJFiqU
- HK Pride Parade (November): https://hkpride.net/
- HK Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (September): http://www.hklgff.hk/
About the author: This week’s blog is written by Fiona Travers. Fiona works with adults, focusing on the following areas in her practice: LGBTQ+ challenges. Grief and bereavement. Fertility issues. Couples counselling.
Fiona is a part-time counsellor at RED DOOR. Her style is informed by two decades creating values and purpose-led brands in the corporate world. She is passionate about helping individuals build personal resilience and find their own sense of self in the world.
Contact the Red Door Reception to set up an appointment with Fiona – firstname.lastname@example.org or text 852-93785428