Saturday 16 September 2017

LGBT+ Mental Health and Coming Out

¨I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else's whim or to someone else's ignorance.¨

-Bell Hooks

Questions about who we are and what we choose to hide from people is something intrinsically human and in many ways also connected to our physical and psychological wellbeing. Mental health and identity constructions have strong links, which those of us in the LGBTQ community who have experienced different health issues can confirm.

What is it that allows us to define ourselves through our sexuality? Is this a good thing that is absolutely necessary for the formation of our characters or completely insignificant for the lives we then decide to lead? While everyone should have the opportunity to decide these things for themselves, in a society that continues to breed and nurture LGBT+-related discriminatory practices, it is not always possible for us to do.

My research is about these particular experiences for young people, and why it is so important to stop these prejudices, promote openness and acceptance, and reach out to each other.

We know enough to be able to say that LGBT+ individuals, particularly young LGBT+ people, are at a higher risk of developing common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety and are almost three times as likely to have suicidal thoughts (Burton et al., 2013; Lea et al., 2014; Marshal et al 2011). Stress is a key factor for mental health and is caused and maintained by a range of factors, including prejudice and discrimination. In addition to this challenge and the alienation from the rest of society, LGBT+ youth also have to deal with general pressures such as leaving home, finding work or studying and integrating into new communities.

In attempt to avoid judgement and stigma, hiding can seem like an enticing option. But it often doesn’t have the desired protective effect. There is proof that our attempts to conceal our sexual identity can affect us mentally and physically (Quinn & Earnshaw, 2013). The act of revealing one's true identity can be a profound form of liberation from self-imposed stigma and allow people to become part of the LGBT+ community and receive social support - in effect, feel less isolated.

Writer and transgender rights activist Janet Mock has said, “Our stories are ours. They belong to us and we should be able to tell them - not at the convenience of others but when we are ready”. So how important is the role of concealment among LGBT+ youth? And how will this affect their mental health and wellbeing? I strongly believe in the importance of delving into some of these questions and proving that elements like storytelling, social support and freedom of expression can play a crucial role in shedding light on our sexual and gender identities and accepting ourselves for who we are or want to be.

There is always the risk of receiving a hurtful comment from someone closed-minded or ignorant. Remember you haven’t done anything wrong - the problem lies with them. Once we can embrace our “otherness” and our differences, we can leave behind that sense of always looking at ourselves through the eyes of others.

It is important to remember that while LGBT+ people are at a higher risk of developing mental health difficulties, the majority of LGBT+ people are thriving. So why is it that some people are more affected than others? This is something that we don’t have all the answers to. That's why my research focuses on looking at the different ways people cope with challenges like stigma, discrimination and mental health difficulties. I hope that research projects like my own become more common and can slowly begin to change our view of LGBT+ people and mental health, making sure that those who do suffer from mental health difficulties don’t become isolated and can be empowered to reach out.


Georgina is a PhD Student, conducting research to understand and intervene with mental health problems in LGBT+ students. This research is being conducted by the LGBT Mental Health Research Group at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King's College London. You can find out more about the research here .
Participants are being recruited to take part in a study on stigma and mental health in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) community. They are looking for UK University and College students who identify as a sexual or gender minority to take part in their research. You can be a part of their study by filling in this survey.

If you'd like further support or information, you can find details for a range of services and organisations listed on our LGBTQ+ Resource Page.
The LGBT Foundation have some great tips for coming out, follow the link to find out more here.
“Ultimately there is no right or wrong way to come out. The important thing is to do it the way you want to and the way you feel comfortable.” - The LGBT Foundation

Burton, C. M., Marshal, M. P., & Friedman, M. S. (2013). Sexual Minority-Related Victimization as a Mediator of Mental Health Disparities in Sexual Minority Youth : A Longitudinal Analysis, 394–402.

Lea, T., Wit, J. De, & Reynolds, R. (2014). Minority Stress in Lesbian , Gay , and Bisexual Young Adults in Australia : Associations with Psychological Distress , Suicidality , and Substance Use.

Marshal, M. P., Dietz, L. J., Friedman, M. S., Stall, R., Smith, H. A., McGinley, J., … Brent, D. A. (2011). Suicidality and depression disparities between sexual minority and heterosexual youth: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Adolescent Health, 49(2), 115–123.

Quinn, D. M. & Earnshaw, V. A.(2013) . Concealable Stigmatized Identities and
Psychological WellBeing. Soc Personal Psychol Compass. 7(1): 40–51. doi:10.1111/spc3.12005

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