LGBT Community: How Mental Health Conversations Are Dispelling The Stigma
- Deepanwita Roy, Clinical Psychologist
- 5 Min Read
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community in India is steadily getting the attention that it deserves and we have even completed one year anniversary of the landmark Section 377 judgment. While we still have a long way to go, the need for all kinds of love to be seen and accepted in mainstream media is quite apparent.
From the times in the early 90s when it was viewed as a taboo, movies like Fire (1996) represented the honest and significant representation of homosexuality. Recent movies like Kapoor & Sons (2015), Margarita with a Straw (2014), Ek Ladki Ko Dekha to Aisa Laga (2019) gained quite a lot of critical acclaim. Now that Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (2020) is around the corner, it’s time to talk about the LGBT community and bust some myths around it.
What is sexual orientation?
Sexual orientation is an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to men, women or both sexes. These attractions are generally discussed under three categories:
- Heterosexuality (having an emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to members of the other sex)
- Homosexuality (having an emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to the members of one’s own sex)
- Bisexuality (having an emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to the members of both the sexes).
- Asexuality (lack of sexual attraction to others) is often marked as a fourth category
How do people know if they are lesbian, gay or bisexual?
According to current research, the core attraction that forms the basis of adult relationships emerges from mid-childhood to early adolescence. Everyone has their own stories and experiences when they realise about their emotional, romantic and sexual attraction, it may or may not be related to any prior sexual experiences, people might not have prior sexual experience and still know about their sexual orientation.
What causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation?
After years of extensive research, there is no consensus among researchers about any exact reason behind a particular individual to have a particular sexual orientation.
Is homosexuality a mental disorder?
The American Psychology Association (APA) has rightfully quoted that no research has found an inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behaviour and homosexual behaviour are normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different cultures and historical eras.
What role do prejudice and discrimination play in LGBT people?
Over the years, the LGBT community has faced intense prejudice, discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation. Prejudice and discrimination have both social and personal impacts. On a social level, the stereotypes and social stigmas, despite having any supportive evidence, can impact psychological health. Similarly, on an individual level, such prejudice and discrimination may also have a negative impact on their mental health, especially if the individuals attempt to conceal or deny their sexual orientation.
What is ‘coming out’ and why is it important?
The phrase ‘coming out’ can have several aspects to LGBT individuals. Sometimes individuals struggle with their self-awareness of their sexual orientation. They hesitate to come out of the shell because of the risks of facing prejudice and discrimination, while some choose to keep their identity a secret; some choose to come out in limited circumstances; whereas, some decide to come out in public. ‘Coming out’ is often an important psychological step for LGBT people. Research has shown that feeling positive about one’s sexual orientation and integrating it into one’s life fosters greater well-being and mental health.
How to diminish prejudice and discrimination against the LGBT community?
Various studies have shown, prejudice, more specifically prejudice against LGBT people consistently reduces when members of the majority group interact more with the minority group. Some of the instrumental ways in which you can contribute are as follows:
- Educate yourself to increase your understanding.
- Learn more about the LGBT community and their struggles
- Learn more about the human rights laws and how they pertain to the LGBT population
- Be supportive and encouraging to your family members, friends and peers
- Speak up if you witness (or are the victim of) discrimination
- Seek professional help
- Share your experiences with others
What are the psychological impacts of prejudice and discrimination?
LGBT individuals are at great risk for poor mental health across developmental stages. Various research evidence has shown elevated rates of major depression, anxiety disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), substance use and abuse and suicidal ideations and attempts. In addition to the effects of stigma and discrimination, the LGBTQ population also often obtains mental health support for:
- Gender dysphoria, a psychological condition experienced by individuals whose gender identity and expression does not match with the gender assigned at birth.
- Sexual identity issues refer to the emotions, thoughts, feelings, and fantasies that contribute to a person’s sexual or romantic attraction to another person. LGBTQ individuals often go through periods of questioning their sexual identity, which can cause confusion and stress. Also pertinent to the LGBTQ community and sexual identity issues is the “coming out” process, and coping with the reactions of friends and family.
What is the importance of psychotherapy in LGBT individuals?
In most of the cases, people with LGBT orientation who seek psychotherapy do so for the same reasons as heterosexual people, like, stress, relationship difficulties, difficulty adjusting to social or work situations, etc. Their sexual orientation may be of primary, incidental, or no importance to their issues and treatment and psychotherapy. Most often, LGBTQ affirmative therapy is applied to empower the individual in all areas of life and relationship; affirmative approach honours the challenges faced by them on a daily basis and navigates them in an effective way.
If you are facing any discomfort with your sexual orientation, people judging you, dilemma of how to ‘come out’, stress, anxiety or any other mental health conditions as a result of stigma and/or discrimination, getting support from a professional therapist can help you learn ways to better cope, feel less isolated, and establish overall mental health and well-being.