I think that it is about time that we get real about mental illness in the queer community. Certainly we talk about youth suicide as a result of bullying in the queer community but not much else. And, even if we do talk about queer youth suicide we do it in a way that others people as victims we need to mourn. The truth is we do need time to mourn and grieve the losses of our community. Sometimes these losses are so impactful that we time away. However it is more than just bullying that affects our community another major factor is mental illness.
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, mental illness affects one in five Canadians directly and the other four will have someone in their life with a mental illness. Mental illness includes any psychological condition that has a major negative impact on a person’s well-being and mental health. This includes depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, personality disorders and many more listed in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Within the queer community, I think there is some extra stigma surrounding mental illness due to our history with psychiatry. Up until 1973, being gay, lesbian or bisexual was considered a mental illness and still today being trans can land you with a mental illness diagnosis, especially if you’re transsexual and trying to access health care in Ontario. Being considered mentally ill simply for who we are certainly acts as a deterrent towards accessing mental health care. And even for those of us who are not pathologized, there is still a very serious concern that our sexual orientation or gender identity will come under scrutiny by mental health professionals.
The reality, however, is that we do live with mental illness in the queer community. And, in my experience, I’ve seen higher rates of mental illness in the queer community than in some others, most likely due to the stresses that we live with as a marginalized population. Let us stop dismissing mental illness in our communities and let us say, yes I live with mental illness and I’m queer.
If you are a mental health service provider and want to make it better for queer clients email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to help end stigma in our communities volunteer at email@example.com. If you need queer-specific counselling support make use of our Celebrating Self counselling program by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Education Programs Coordinator
PTS – A Centre for Ottawa’s Queer Community