My place in the world
A blog to mark LGBTQ+ month from one of our support workers, Hannah Peregrine-Wheller. We are also celebrating stories of Hope and Courage with our new social media campaign #HopeandCourage. Find out more here and follow us on Instagram.
As a non-binary pansexual person I am a part of the LGBTQ+ community and I have experienced mental health problems. I believe that my worries about coming out and fitting into a gender binary, is what triggered some of my challenges with my mental health. The worry and panic that I felt, when knowing I had to tell my family, was overwhelming. It was something that built up over time and the longer I kept my feelings and thoughts to myself, the more overwhelming they became. As a teenager I was also a part of a local church and this added to my anxieties, as I felt they would reject me if I opened up to them.
I felt I was wrong and that I didn’t even exist.
When I was growing up there wasn’t a word for ‘pansexual’ or for being ‘non-binary’. I was told I was female and that there were two genders: male and female. This created an inner turmoil due to not feeling male or female. What’s more, I had no way of knowing how to express this in a society that told me it wasn’t just wrong, but that it didn’t exist.
I reached out to people within my local LGBT community and tried to share my thoughts and feelings. However, they turned their backs on me when I said I may be bi-sexual and that I did not feel like a girl or a boy. This made me feel that there wasn’t anyone who was able to understand what I was thinking and feeling. It was a very confusing and lonely time for me.
My mental health suffered
Through being a part of the LGBTQ+ community I have become more and more aware of the links between being LGBTQ+ and having mental health difficulties.
Stonewall’s ‘Prescription for Change’ report found there is a direct correlation between being LGBTQ+ and having mental health issues. It points out that early medical professionals thought being LGBTQ+ WAS a mental illness. Homosexuality was seen as part of the problem, and that LGBTQ+ people needed psychiatric treatment.
This changed in 1990 when the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from their list of mental illnesses. Many people have grown up in a time where not only did society not understand their sexuality and/or gender, but also where they were seen to be mentally ill because they were not heterosexual.
What wasn’t understood is that one of the biggest contributors to LGBTQ+ people having mental health difficulties, is the fear they have about telling people how they feel and the rejection that many people experience when they come out, along with the abuse people can suffer just by being LGBTQ+.
Stigma experienced by the LGBTQ+ communit
One review of studies on mental health issues in the LGBTQ+ community found the following:
- LGBTQ+ people are at more risk of suicidal behaviour and self-harm than non-LGBTQ+ people.
- Gay, bisexual and Trans men are four times more likely to attempt suicide across their lifetime than the rest of the population.
- LGBTQ+ people are 1½ times more likely to develop depression and anxiety compared to the rest of the population.
So, what happened to me?
Three years ago I became aware of what it meant to be pansexual and non-binary and, for me that was life-changing. I was able to feel that I finally had visibility because, for such a long time, I felt that my feelings around my gender and sexuality were disregarded and invalidated in such a way that I had to pretend to be something I wasn’t just to be accepted by others.
Some people don’t like labels, but labels are what enabled me to finally understand what I had always been thinking and feeling, yet wasn’t able to express. These words and definitions, along side further reading and the ability to hear other people’s stories, have created a genuine understanding and acceptance of self that has contributed to my mental health improving.
I have made some wonderful friends who accept me for who I am and it is because of their acceptance and their recognition of my difficult experiences, that I have been able to move forward. They didn’t care who I loved or how I identified and this enabled me to slowly grow in my self confidence.
Now I am proud of who I am
I have gone from feeling very lonely and ostracized, even from some LGBTQ+ communities, to knowing who I am, of being proud to be me and feeling able to share this with others without a fear of judgment and rejection.
I moved to Bristol two years ago. I come from a small village, surrounded by family and friends, and so moving to a city, where I didn’t know anyone, was a huge shock to my system. I went back to feeling very lonely, isolated and emotional. It brought back a lot of the feelings I’d had as a teenager and the more I isolated myself, the more depressed I became. This was when I realised I needed to reach out.
I had a look online and found a group called ‘BS3 LGBT+ ‘ who are a great group of people in Bristol who arrange and run evenings where anyone who’s LGBTQ+ can come along and spend time with other LGBTQ+ people. I really enjoyed these evenings and have made some good friends, but I wanted to be able to find something that I could attend on a weekly basis, something that encouraged me to engage with others and to positively contribute to the LGBTQ+ community.
Shouting out about being me!
After a year of living in Bristol I was asked to appear on ‘Shout Out LGBT Radio’. This one experience has changed my life. I was able to meet with people who I instantly formed a connection with, because they understood my journey and completely accepted me, they also asked me to be a full time member of their show and I have been there every week since, becoming the show’s researcher and a regular on live radio.
This experience has shown me how invaluable it is to be a part of something, to feel understood and wanted and to be around people who “just get it” without a need to explain. It didn’t have to be a radio show. It could have been anything where I was able to meet with people who I felt safe with and with compassionate individuals who have open minds
Some support services for LGBTQ+ community
Sources for statistics