Mental Health

What Can You Do?

1. Understand why you are vulnerable.
Mental health problems are usually caused through too much emotional stress. Life is stressful at times, and we have to learn to cope with it. But too much stress, especially at vulnerable times, can push us over the top.

As we are growing up we hear lots of nasty things said about gay people. We see it on the tv, on films, read it in newspapers; we sometimes hear our families saying bad things; we certainly hear negative things said at school: from putting anything down by saying, '"that is so gay!" to words and phrases such as queer, pervert, sick and so on.

We learn, from an early age, that being gay (or lesbian, bisexual or transgender) is not 'normal'. It is no surprise, therefore, that we are in a dreadful state when we realise that us being different (which we might have known about for a long time) is about us being gay. This is called 'internalised homophobia.'

If you belong to a religion or a culture that says homosexuality is a sin, you are likely to feel even more guilty. Who wants to be a pervert, sick, a sinner, someone people hate?

In order to feel better about being gay we need to go through what is called the 'coming out' process. Coming out, accepting ourselves and then telling others that we are gay, can be a very stressful time. We constantly fear rejection.

The average age for coming out has dropped significantly over the past ten years. Young people are now starting to come out at around 14 years.

This means you are likely to be totally alone dealing with the process. It means you are likely to either be experiencing homophobic bullying or seeing other people in your school being bullied because people know or think they are gay. It means you are unlikely to have the support of your parents because they don't know you are gay as you are too terrified to tell them. Or even worse, you think or know that they will reject you if they find out. THIS IS STRESS BIG TIME!

The bullying is likely to push you over the top, but even if you yourself are not being bullied, any extra stress, such as exams or parents getting divorced, can push you over the top.

Is it surprising that many young LGBT people get depressed and anxious at this time? Is it surprising that they turn to alcohol and drugs as a way of dulling the pain? Is it surprising that, having experienced bullying on a day-to-day basis they develop agoraphobia, social phobia or school phobia? Is it surprising that some turn to self harm as a way of letting out the pain? Is it surprising that some try to kill themselves?

2. Find support
The most important thing to do is to find support. You do not need to go through this process on your own. There will be someone you can talk to.

Speak to a teacher (GALYIC found that more teachers are responding positively), or youth worker or maybe the school nurse.

Look out for posters that challenge homophobia or publicise the local LGBT youth group: this is usually a sign that there is someone supportive around.

Or failing that, ring ChildLine,

3. Come out
In order to reduce the likelihood of developing mental health problems (or reducing them), you need to come out. But coming out isn't without risks and it isn't always safe to come out, especially to parents, when you are very young. The more positive experiences you have coming out the better, but negative experiences can make you more vulnerable, so, again, get support!

It is important that you read the Coming Out section on the website if you haven't already done so.

4. Meet other young LGBT people.
It is just as important, if not more important, to be able to meet other young people who are the same age as you and who have been through similar experiences. You need to go through the 'normal' processes of adolescence, such as developing social skills, trusting friendships, romantic relationships.

Isolation is one of the most dangerous situations for any LGBT young person to be in. Watch Sixteen, a dvd members of Gay and Lesbian Youth in Calderdale made with the Department of Health.

5. Develop resilience
All of the above will help you develop resilience (being able to bounce back) and skills to deal with stress, conflict and homophobia in a positive way (instead of turning to alcohol or drugs or self harm). You are more likely to get stronger when you join your local gay youth group.

When I ran Gay and Lesbian Youth in Calderdale I took members away on a residential and we discussed the stress of belonging to a minority group, click here to download the report.

Here is a list of positive ways to deal with stress that members came up with: stress balls, counselling, alternative therapies, baking, relaxation, physical exercise, physical relief, spending time with mates/family, screaming, singing and dancing, listening to tuneage, swearing at pillows, hard day's work, getting enough sleep, cross-dressing, herbal tea/horlicks.

6. Fight back
Once you are strong enough it can help to start fighting back. Get involved with local campaigns, consider setting up a Gay Straight Alliance in your school.

It is useful to make alliances with other oppressed groups: the system that oppresses LGBT people also oppresses black and minority ethnic people, disabled people, poor people, women. Take a look at Lynne Cooper's story about being a transracial adopted child.

There are many other video extracts from Adopted The Movie, which tell similar stories about the experiences of transracial adopted children, many of which are very similar to those of young LGBT people. Here is a link Framework, to a power point presentation which you might find helpful.

Getting Stuck