Insight / by Emine Akkunt
Emine Akkunt is the talking therapies programme manager for LGBT Foundation. The service provides free counselling and LGBT affirmative therapy sessions to individuals and couples. To see a counsellor, individuals can fill out a form here.
The conversation about gender and sexuality, much like mental health, is as strong and open as it ever has been. But many members of the LGBTQ+ community still face barriers that can affect their mental health. LGBT Foundation's Talking Therapies Programme Manager, Emine Akkunt, gives her insight into these issues and what needs to change in order to address them.
Since 1975, we at LGBT Foundation have worked towards creating a society in which LGBTQ+ people can discuss their identities without fear of discrimination. A key part of that has been encouraging a more candid discussion around mental health issues experienced by LGBTQ+ people.
Talking about mental health is now far more accepted, which applies just as much to the LGBTQ+ community as it does to general society. But that doesn’t mean our work is done. Because, while falling under the LGBTQ+ umbrella may be far less of a taboo topic in 2022, the rates of mental health issues in the community continue to be striking.
We provide mental health support to LGBTQ+ people through a variety of services; Domestic abuse, Befriending, Recovery, Trans Advocacy, inclusivity in mainstream services, and Talking Therapies Programme. By the end of 2021, our Helpline provided 4365 instances of support across both phone and email, delivering 39,456 minutes (658 hours) in total via phone alone. Of all our service users, almost 3 in 10 (29%) were also accessing other mental health services.
So, what mental health issues are LGBTQ+ people dealing with?
Looking at our referral data, both anxiety (69%) and depression (62%) are particularly common among LGBTQ+ people. Unfortunately, the latter has increased in prevalence, rising 10% over the past 12 months, alongside issues related to trauma (7% increase) and sexuality (8% increase).
Based on our research, around 1 in 7 (14%) of the service users feel threatened and unsafe because of discrimination and experience of abuse. Around half of our service users said that they had experienced abuse as a child (50%) or as an adult (49%). These numbers are concerning enough on their own, but when considering that 68% of those abused as a child and 70% of those abused as an adult have never received support for their experience, these figures becomes even more worrying.
These proportions are particularly pronounced among sub-communities, particularly the trans community. 55% of transgender people experienced abuse as a child, of whom more than 6 in 10 have never reported the abuse they received.
Proportions of almost all issues faced by LGBTQ+ individuals who contact our talking therapies service have increased between 2020/21 and 2021/22
As is seen across society, experiencing trauma, combined with a lack of psychological support to deal with it, can lead people to develop unhealthy mindsets. Among the LGBTQ+ community, this unfortunately manifests as suicidal ideation and self-harm.
Based on individuals who engaged with our services, over half (52%) had thought about harming themselves, while more than three-quarters (77%) had contemplated taking their own life. Only 38% of the suicidal individuals were known or were accessing support because of these thoughts. These figures are again worse among trans service users – 71% of them had thought about harming themselves, while 88% had experienced suicidal thoughts. A slightly higher proportion of transgender people (42%) are receiving support for these thoughts.
Suicidal ideation is very common among transgender people who contact our talking therapies service
What can we do?
As a society, we must encourage a greater understanding and acceptance of problems faced, not only by those experiencing mental health difficulties, but also difficulties that are more prevalent in the LGBTQ+ community. This can be achieved through better training to different establishments within society, such as workplaces or healthcare systems, to improve the knowledge around these difficulties and the language used by individuals when providing support.
Such betterment can only be achieved if individuals have a safe space to speak freely about their experiences, regardless of identity or sexuality. Services, such as those provided by LGBT Foundation, create this safe environment for individuals to engage with and be key to a future without stigma around mental health difficulties.
We encourage all to get in touch with relevant services because no difficulty is ever too small or irrelevant; this includes those faced by LGBTQ+ individuals. Our understanding of mental health difficulties has never been greater, but will continue to reach greater heights with each individual that speaks up about their difficulties.