Here we explore some of the negative influences lesbian, gay or bisexual people may experience.
Childhood and Past Experiences
If we experience some kind of trauma in childhood, it could make it more likely that we’ll develop mental health problems in adulthood.
Trauma can include experiences such as being abused (sexually, physically, or emotionally), being neglected, bullied, experiencing family problems or being exposed to violence. The things we experience as children may have a significant influence on our emotional, psychological and physiological development and even on the relationships we form in later life.
I know that my childhood was an unhappy one. I wasn’t looked after properly and my parents’ relationship was often violent. From a young age I use to hide away and disappear into my own ‘secret world’ where I felt safe. I didn’t realise until I was in my 30’s that all of this had caught up on me; I’d isolated myself away from everyone and just couldn’t cope with life...
As human beings, we are social creatures and feeling isolated can have a big impact on our mental health.
It’s important to recognise that you can still feel isolated and alone even if you’re surrounded by people; the crucial part is about feeling connected to others around you. It’s thought that older LGB people are one of the most isolated groups in our society, which could also mean their risk of developing mental health problems is one of the highest.
There can still be some stigma around loneliness, perhaps because in our society there can be an emphasis on being self-sufficient and independent. However, prolonged isolation can have a serious impact on our mental health, causing negative thought patterns and making us less resilient to illness.
I’ve always been quite an open person, but feeling lonely was one of the things I just couldn’t bring myself to admit to other people, I felt ashamed. I’ve got a good life from the outside I have a nice house, I have a lot of hobbies, but I feel so isolated from everyone else.
It feels like everyone is surrounded by family, going out for family meals, celebrating together and I’m stuck at home on my own. It’s now turned into a cycle where I’m isolating myself away from people even more... I never thought it’d end up like this.
Internalised homophobia is a hatred of our own sexual orientation. It often occurs when we have been taught that being straight is the ‘norm’ and seeing or hearing negative things about being lesbian, gay or bisexual.
Being aware of our own sexual orientation, we might believe those negative things about ourselves, even if they don’t fit. Internalised homophobia can be experienced in many different ways and has the potential to cause a lot of distress. Feeling hatred and disgust towards a part of yourself can damage confidence, self esteem, in some cases lead people to self harm and at its worst, lead people to attempt to take their own lives.
People can and do overcome internalised homophobia, with many opting for counselling as a way of exploring the positive side of their sexual orientation.
It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that my feelings weren’t going to change.
For years I resented the fact that I felt different; I felt disgusted in myself every time I saw a guy I was attracted to. I tried to end it twice and came close to trying it again quite a few more times since. I’d end up having risky sex as a way of punishing myself and luckily things didn’t end up as bad as they could’ve done…
Discrimination, Homophobia, Biphobia and Abuse
Approximately 3 in 5 LGB people have experienced a mental health problem in the last 5 years compared to 1 in 4 of the general population, in any one year.
The is experiences of discrimination, homophobia and biphobia in society and possible rejection by friends, families and others, such as employers, means that some LGB people experience more problems with their mental health than others.
It started when I noticed all my friends had been given an invitation addressed to them and their partners; I was the only one who was different. It’s not always the things strangers shout at you in the street; it can come from the people you know...they’re the most hurtful. It’s things like when friends in the pub make homophobic comments and then try to say they’re only having a laugh.
Well I don’t find it funny, none of it, and as much as I try to stop it, I can feel it grinding me down...
Significant Life Events
We all have them; some are wonderful and some are painful, but life would be pretty boring without them!
A significant life event can be anything from moving house, to starting a new job, from welcoming a new life into the world to saying goodbye to a loved one. Perhaps one of the most significant life events many LGB people might go through, is coming out those first few times.
We know that you don’t come out just the once, but those first few times for a lot of us are memorable; whether for good reasons or bad. For some people, even seemingly positive events, such as starting a new job can have a negative impact on mental health due to heightened stress levels.
I noticed the effect of coming out on my mental health before I’d even done it! All those sleepless nights worried what people would say, planning for the worst possible outcomes and added to that just wanting to be straight like all my friends took me to a pretty dark place.
Looking back, I can see I had nothing to worry about, but there was always that fear at the back of my mind.
Poor Physical Health
For some of us, having a long-term physical health condition can impact on every area of our lives; our relationships, how much we socialise, self esteem and work being just a few examples.
Living with a serious physical health condition can also affect our mental health, perhaps because of some of the things we might feel, such as angry, isolated, scared and out of control.
For some, treatment of the illness can be stressful, cause a lot of pain, and some medications can also affect how you feel emotionally. There are also certain physical conditions, such as an underactive thyroid, which can affect the way the brain works and can in some people, directly cause depression and/or anxiety (we advise you speak to your GP if you are concerned).
When I was diagnosed with HIV eight years ago, everything seemed to spiral out of control.
Even though I could carry on with life as normal, it felt like I had my future planned out in front of me and it looked completely miserable. I had to start depending on other people too, telling me what to look out for, tablets I needed to be taking. Even though the physical symptoms were manageable, the impact it had on me mentally was huge.
The best thing I did was meet other positive people and saw how they just get on with things.
Drugs and Alcohol
There is a close relationship between substance abuse (illegal drugs, legal drugs, alcohol) and mental health, with people abusing substances being more likely to develop mental health problems and vice versa.
This is particularly true for LGB people, we’re just as likely to have a substance misuse issue as we are to have a mental health problem.
People use substances for all kinds of reasons, but what they may have in common, is that most forms of substance abuse can give a temporary feeling of wellbeing, whether that’s a feeling of control, relaxation or alertness, it may even provide an escape from feelings such as internalised homophobia.
If you want some support around drugs and/or alcohol, then please see our ‘Useful Contacts’ section.
I’m not sure how long it took me to realise I had a problem, I just remember being in work one day in a meeting, physically shaking and knew that having a bit of coke at the weekends had gone way too far. I was annoyed at myself for being the one who got hooked, my friends seemed to be able to take or leave it, but I quickly realised I couldn’t do it.
If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you’ll know how much of a wake-up call that was for me.
This is by no means a definitive list of the things that can influence our mental health, just some examples which you have hopefully found useful.
Sometimes there’s no obvious cause or reason for experiencing problems with our mental health. There’s been research to suggest that certain conditions, such as depression may even be hereditary.
Even if we do have an idea of what’s impacted on our mental health, they are not always things we can control, understand or come to terms with straight away. Life can have its ups and downs to say the least, and some things may leave their mark on us more than others, but this isn’t a sign of weakness; recognising it and asking for support can even be the thing that makes you stronger.
The last few years have been one thing after another. It felt like every time I picked myself up, I was knocked back down again. I’ve always been independent and didn’t like people knowing I wasn’t OK. One day a friend asked me what was going on, everything just came out and it felt like a weight had been lifted.