Queer and Mental Health Challenges: Will Awareness Reduce Social Stress?
According to one study, two out of three queer people experience higher rates of anxiety and depression. The oppression and discrimination they face have especially aggravated their mental health problems. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other self-identified gay (LGBTQ) youth are often forced into their shells because they are made to believe they belong in a different world. They are forced to question coming out of the closet and whether it will be the right thing to do.
There is also a general assumption that those who choose to stay in the closet are more susceptible to mental health issues than those who choose to go out. We spoke to Richa Vashista, Chief Mental Health Expert, AtEase, who explained the challenges queer people face. She claimed that while talking about sexuality has helped disguise social stress, there is still a long way to go.
Common Concerns of Queer People
Richa Vashista reveals that the most common concern for people concerned about their gender identity or sexual orientation is coming out. She says: “Coming out is one of the very, very common concerns that arise. Whether it’s coming out to a friend or their parents, or coming out to a workspace .” She adds, “A lot of people have come to me for the first time in their lives because they’re afraid of what society will think of them.”
Are those who choose to stay in the closet more susceptible to mental health issues than those who choose to come out?
Experts believe it is better to give them the choice than to “ask” or “encourage” them to go out. Richa Vashista says, “It’s their life and their choice. Coming out of the closet or staying in the closet is up to them.”
She further explains that the mental health issues they face are not about the choice to come out but about who they are. “They make their choice only because they feel too many emotions. Sometimes people who want to date can feel pressured, they have to live a double life, that’s why they decide to date. However, a person who chose to stay in the closet could feel at peace because of the decision,” Vashista says.
How to address mental health issues in different age groups?
“Because young people are more exposed, there are so many more conversations about sexuality and gender among them. There is more awareness around LGBTQIA than there was years ago. The younger generation also has more access to information than older people. So that’s why with older people it’s a little more difficult to work around sexuality and gender because they’re much more rigid in terms of acceptance and to talk about it. A lot of people also experience what’s called internalized homophobia. that’s that internally I don’t agree with the concept of someone being gay, so I can’t even not accept me, so that’s also a very common thing that comes up in therapy,” says Vashista.
She adds: “The new generation, the young people, are much more aware of who they are and who they are. Maybe that was not the case 10 years ago.”
Does cinema play a role in minimizing social stress?
Lately, many queer people are coming out and getting credit for their work in showbiz as well. On the other hand, Indian mainstream cinema has covered topics like lavender weddings, gay/lesbian love stories and others in many films. Just recently, the trailer for the film “Badhaai Do” by Rajkummar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar shed light on lavender weddings. Does this mean that society is ready to completely accept queer individuals?
Richa Vashista says, “Global awareness has increased, especially through representation in the media, which could help the cause. It helps people get an idea or clarity about gender identity and it helps queer people come out a lot more. But also, sometimes the representation is bad. It’s a very glamorous version of showing the reality that a gay couple is not. So cinema helps to try to reach Indian audiences but it’s not really the best way to represent them.”
When the family does not accept her orientation, what are the consequences she faces in terms of mental well-being?
Vashista explains that when queer people are not accepted by the family, many mental health issues affect them. “So, for example, their sense of identity starts to get affected, they start to question their own identity, because they don’t get the approval they want from their family members. It starts to affect their self esteem, it starts to affect the way they perceive themselves Apart from that it can also lead to serious mental health issues like anxiety and depression Because their identity doesn’t isn’t validated, their identity isn’t accepted. So all of these issues are very important factors that lead to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. And that lasts in the long run as well,” says Vashista.
How to deal with such situations?
“A person who has symptoms or is in similar situations should always consider going to therapy. As a therapist, we will try to address how we could circumvent depression, how we could circumvent anxiety , what are the triggers that make them anxious? The trigger can be — because my family doesn’t accept me, so no one in life will ever accept me. This leads to low self-esteem. That’s what what we would do in therapy with such a person, we would help them be independent and accept themselves only after they can talk with a family member.It is important to be comfortable with your own identity. And a lot of times we also try to tell them that just because your family doesn’t accept you doesn’t mean no one else will.”
What are the first warning signs a person should notice?
Richa Vashista explains that a person who starts having mental health issues can start to withdraw from everyone. The second warning sign is mood swings in people. They may suddenly become restless or upset. If you notice a person crying more often than usual, that’s also a warning sign. Or if their sleep or appetite is affected. So here are some signs to keep in mind that if you notice these things happening, you should definitely seek therapy.