The area of youth mental health has seen growing levels of research, service, discussion and understanding over the past few years. While great strides have been made about the mental health of our young people, there are still many stones that have yet to be overturned. One of the most pressing areas in youth mental health, in my opinion, is our young LGBTI people in Ireland.
LGBTI is a shorthand term for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex. There are many other words used in the rainbow spectrum which relate to gender identity and sexual orientation; pansexual, queer, asexual or aromantic. There are many terms of reference for the LGBTI community. We spend so much time trying to focus on the words that are politically correct and we are not focussing enough time on addressing the mental health and wellbeing of our LGBTI young people.
A report was launched earlier in 2016 which focused on the mental health and wellbeing of the LGBTI community in Ireland. The LGBTIreland Report revealed that the mental health of our young people in Ireland is at a crisis point. The outcomes of the report were harrowing and a shiver still goes up my spine when I read the experiences of our young LGBTI people. The report showed that our young LGBTI people were twice as likely to have self-harmed as their peers. They experience four times the level of stress, anxiety and depression as their peers and are three times more likely to have made an attempt to end their lives. These findings show that our LGBTI young people are in an extremely difficult space with their mental health. The rates in Ireland are already high for self-harm, stress, anxiety and depression- it is so alarming that our young LGBTI people experience even higher levels than their peers.
The report collected its data in 2014 which was before the marriage referendum in 2015. The marriage referendum was hugely impactful on our people and country. As the first country in the world to bring in marriage equality by popular vote, the country said to our LGBTI people that they need to be treated equally. That kind of affirmation from your country has to have a profound impact on your feelings of belonging, self-esteem and wellbeing. Many may think that because we have marriage equality that the LGBTI community should be ‘grand’ now. While it may be true that marriage equality is a fantastic feat, it is just one of many issues that the LGBTI community faces.
While there is no robust research yet on the current place our LGBTI young people are in after the marriage referendum, it is still an area we need to focus on. I don’t imagine that the shocking statistics about our young LGBTI people’s mental health is vastly different after the marriage referendum. We need to ensure that no young person in Ireland feels that they are any lesser because they are LGBTI. We need to ensure that no young person’s mental health is compromised because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We need to ensure that no mental health service feels they are unable to deal with LGBTI issues.
The LGBTIreland Report also found that almost one in three LGBTI people cited stigma and the fear of being labelled as a barrier to accessing mental health services, and almost one in six feeling that a service can’t help them. These findings highlight the absolute need for mental health services in Ireland to address the issue of being an open and inclusive place for service users to feel that they access the help they need.
So, what can we do as service providers for our young LGBTI people? With the LGBTI community being a group who are more likely to experience negative mental health, they need to know that a mental health service embraces diversity. There are many things that can be done- it could be a simple rainbow flag at reception, or a LGBTI poster on the board or an LGBTI blog post on your website. Above all, we need to let our young LGBTI people know that we care about their mental health and wellbeing.
- If you would like to learn more about the LGBTIreland Report, you can read the Key Findings here or the Full Report here.
- If you would like to speak with the LGBT Helpline, call 1890 929 539 or go to lgbt.ie
- If you would like to speak with the Gay Switchboard, call 01 872 1055 or go to gayswitchboard.ie
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