Affirming LGBT+ Experiences
June 19, 2023
Being LGBT+ doesn’t mean that you’re automatically going to experience bad mental health, but we do know that being LGBT+ does put people at risk of experiencing poor mental health. There are many reasons why this might be; from nasty comments about a person’s identity to long-term bullying, the way that people react to an LGBT+ person’s identity will have a significant impact on their experience overall.
Research by Just Like Us that explored LGBT+ peoples’ experiences in school has shown that, like with every other child, LGBT+ children and young people will thrive if they feel safe, happy and valued for who they are. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Though many young people will find positive reactions to ‘coming out’ from their friends and families, it can be very difficult when people react badly. As well as that, young people exploring their identities and questioning themselves might find it more difficult if the world around them isn’t sharing positive and inclusive messages, or if there are no messages about LGBT identities. In schools, research by Just Like Us showed that nearly half – 45% - of LGBT+ school pupils, ‘had been bullied in the past year, which is double the number of non-LGBT+ pupils’. Of many of those, some didn’t report this bullying or tell a teacher at school. LGBT+ young people are also less likely to feel ‘very close’ to their family, and less likely to think their families understand the things that are important to them. This is a key point here because, like every person, it’s incredibly important for us to feel understood and that people, especially our families, understand us for who we are.
For times when things are difficult, it can be hard enough to talk to people about your mental health if you don’t feel like you’re able to be open with family or friends. This can be even harder if you are, or think you might identify with the LGBT+ community. You might have the added pressure of wanting to talk about your experiences but worrying that you won’t be believed or being told that you’re too young to know or that you’re just confused. It might also be that LGBT+ people might fear being made fun of or that they might be rejected or bullied. Being bullied is already shown to have an impact on social anxiety, which might be worsened by extra pressures around trying to understand or express LGBT+ experiences. This is why finding ways to affirm your LGBT+ identity or to affirm others, is incredibly important. When we say affirm, we can mean a few things – affirming your LGBT+ identity might be about being open and honest about who you are, or honest about your feelings. It also includes validating others and supporting and uplifting them. Here are a few ways that we can do this:
Learn about LGBT+ terms and identities. If you’re unsure about what someone means when they say they might be pansexual, for example, it can be useful to look it up. Learning more about LGBT+ identities can help if you’re confused about your own feelings and want to know more or find ways to explain them. Or, if you are confused by what someone means when they describe themselves, learning different LGBT+ terms will mean that when someone comes to you and you already know, they might feel seen and understood without the added stress of having to explain themselves.
Be visible. If you use social media, share positive stories and messages about LGBT+ identities and communities. Make sure to be mindful of your own mental health when using social media and take breaks when you need to.
Believe what people tell you. If someone ‘comes out’ to you, or shares their experience, it can sometimes be difficult to understand if we don’t have that same experience. It’s important to know that we don’t have to understand everything – we just have to make sure we believe people, listen to them and make them feel heard and supported if needed.
There are also many other ways that we can be allies to the LGBT+ community, and part of allyship is about learning from and supporting communities, whether or not we are part of them. By making sure we validate people’s experiences and feelings, showing that we support them and are there for them, we’ll have a big impact on the mental health of the LGBT+ people we know.