Sexuality And Mental Health
No matter what our sexual orientation, every one of us has the potential to fall prey to emotional or psychological difficulties stemming from a huge range of issues. For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people, however, the sources of mental distress are, undoubtedly, far more numerous. Alongside the causes of depression and anxiety and the reasons for distorted thinking and unhelpful behaviours experienced by heterosexual individuals, LGBT people not only have to deal with the issue of coming to terms with their own sexuality or gender, but they also have to face the often homophobic attitudes and the lack of understanding of those around them. For this reason, they are at much greater risk of developing mental health issues.
Institutionalised homophobia, or the tendency of governments, churches, businesses, schools and other organisations to treat heterosexuality as something ‘better’ or ‘more moral’, is something which most people are subjected to and are aware of from a very early age. Whether in the form of jokes, through formal teaching, via the media or everyday conversations, we cannot fail to be aware of the prejudice and discrimination which are still rife in today’s society. Against this background, youngsters who don’t fit neatly into the heterosexual category, or who do not conform to the gender that society would ordinarily assign to them, are not only faced with the normal problems associated with finding and forming their own identities and the transition into adulthood, but also with a whole host of other concerns regarding their very acceptability in the world. In many cases, the views and opinions held by their parents, families and friends are such that they feel entirely isolated and as though they have nowhere to turn. Not only at this stage, but throughout their lives, they are commonly faced with self-esteem and self-image problems which often lead to depression.
No matter what messages we hear in life, and no matter where they come from, if we hear them often enough and for long enough, they will almost inevitably affect us. For some lesbian, gay and bisexual people, living in a society which is still, to a large extent homophobic, leads them to despise their own sexuality and so self-hatred and low self-esteem can become very real issues which can lead to serious mental health problems. Because institutionalised homophobia is not only prevalent in society in general, however, but also within some areas of the health service itself, there can often be a great deal of reticence in terms of seeking help and a feeling of not knowing who can be trusted.
Although some of the mental health issues faced by members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community are similar to those faced by heterosexuals and are in no way related to sexuality or gender, they are set against an entirely different background which requires the counsellor or therapist treating them to have specialist knowledge and understanding, as well as appropriate attitudes. Without these things, the individuals cannot be certain that the unique challenges that they face on a day to day basis will be properly addressed and taken into account.
Regardless of sexual orientation or gender, seeking help for emotional and psychological difficulties is vital in restoring or creating good mental health. In order to gain maximum benefit from treatment, however, it is important to find and to choose a professional therapist or counsellor who is truly aware of the presenting issues and who is not blinded by his or her own prejudicial views.