Shocking data has arisen after Gair Rhydd surveyed the LGBT+ student population in Cardiff University.
With 53 responses, the following data has produced some worrying statistics.
Could identifying as LGBT+ have a negative impact on the mental health of those students at Cardiff University?
Gair Rhydd collaborated with Stand With LGBT+ to shed light on the issue.
of LGBT+ students felt their sexual and gender identity had affected their mental health
Is there a stigma around seeking mental health support, as respondents shied away from searching for professional help?
Those who had sought help at University felt it was “generally unhelpful” and that there were “not enough counselling sessions”, while 54.7% of respondents said the support available is unsuitable.
The statistics suggest that the LGBT+ student population at Cardiff University does not view the University support services as appropriate for their needs.
Students at Cardiff University feel that there is not enough appropriate support for those that identify as LGBT+ and are struggling with their mental health.
When we discuss mental health at university, we often forget to consider the need for specific support for particular groups of people. We discuss the fact that people are struggling, we talk about the way in which university can serve as a hostile environment in which one’s mental health can rapidly deteriorate – yet we rarely tend to acknowledge the fact that, often, specific communities are more likely to suffer with their mental health than others.
Far too frequently, we fail to discuss the issue of increased mental health afflictions within the LGBT+ community. We refuse to truly grapple with the reality of the way in which those that identify as LGBT+ are faced with far more hurdles than their heterosexual peers at university and we allow a collective silence to form when we approach this conversation.
Although I first came out to my family and friends more than six years ago now, and so have had a significant amount of time to consider and contemplate my identity, this does not mean that I have not experienced difficulties with my mental health as a result of my own queerness. Internalised homophobia can be a wretched thing and only in my second year at university did I finally become comfortable with referring to myself as a lesbian.
Only years after I had begun to accept my sexuality was I able to dissociate this particular term with the stigmas that came with it – which I had carried over, largely, from the schoolyard and which had accompanied me well into the beginning of my early adulthood. It was not only the outward homophobic comments that would lead to a breakdown with regards to my mental stability but my own, seemingly inescapable association of gayness with tragedy and self-hatred. This, in fact, is the first time I have truly put into words – or admitted aloud to anyone that was not a close friend – just how much my sexuality has impacted the state of my mental health and just how much it continues to permeate most of my life.
This, then, is an attempt in itself to de-stigmatise, in myself, the refusal to acknowledge the connection between difficulties in mental health and identifying as LGBT+.
I hope that with reading this, for any of you that may be members of the LGBT+ community, you feel some relief in knowing that you are not alone in your struggle with the relationship between your mental state and your identity. Nor are you alone in perhaps not acknowledging or discussing the matter – this is from my heart to yours, we are united wherever we struggle.
Hannah Ryan is the LGBT+ Officer (Women’s) for Cardiff University Students’ Union
We spoke to Alice Lobb, LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Project Co-ordinator at Rainbow Bridge, about LGBT+ mental health.
Do you feel that being LGBT+ does raise the chances of suffering with one’s mental health?
“Yes, I do agree with that statement particularly, because there is a lot of biased prejudice that is still underlying in today’s society. I think it’s important to note that although we have made positive steps for the LGBT+ community, there are still stigmas attached to this group, and that stigma can run through in someone’s life and trigger an onset of mental health issues. Because of this, I do think it’s a very important issue that needs addressing.”
When working for Rainbow Bridge, have you experienced any first-hand accounts of a correlation between mental health afflictions and being LGBT+?
“Yes, so with Rainbow Bridge we’re a domestic abuse service. What we’re recognising is whether the mental health issue has occurred because of prejudice from a young age. It also can be triggered from being in an abusive relationship, which can trigger an onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We also know that the LGBT+ community are at a much higher risk of experiencing domestic abuse in general, because there’s a lot of unique characteristics, which can flow through for the LGBT+ community.”
How does mental health and domestic abuse intertwine within the LGBT+ population?
“I think there’s definitely a link there, because domestic abuse can be traumatising for anyone, let alone someone that is in a community where there is additional barriers and additional stigma taking place. By raising awareness of these issues, this is the only way we’re really going to be able to support them and tackle the core of the problem.”
What have you seen in your line of work?
“Within cases of domestic violence, the main thing is PTSD and the onset, and the trigger that can come from sexual violence. Especially domestic abuse within the family home, and if that’s something that someone is experiencing when they’re growing up, it’s likely to trigger some mental health issues for that individual. We know that domestic abuse in the family home is even bigger in the transgender community as well. It’s important to be aware of that.”
It seems that wrapped up in that, is an idea of vulnerability?
“Yes, completely. If the abuse is happening in the family home as a result of revealing your sexuality or gender identity, you could then be isolated from the family, which is then a massive social support group that you’ve lost. If you go into a first-time relationship in the LGBT+ community, which we know is where people are most vulnerable to experiencing domestic abuse as well, you’ve then lost a massive support network to go to as well. Say you move to University for example, and gotten into a first-time relationship, and joined the LGBT+ community in that sense and felt comfortable, and then experience domestic abuse, there’s a lot of issues and isolation that can occur.”
From that isolation, have you ever found that mental health issues are created?
“Yeah, it almost seems inevitable; within domestic abuse, we know that there’s a lot of manipulation and coercion. If someone is being put down, manipulated and isolated away, it’s only natural for that to have an impact on their mental health.”
Why do you think mental health afflictions are more common in the LGBT+ population?
“I do think it is because of the stigma and the discrimination that can run through for the LGBT+ community. I was doing an exercise the other day, and I asked individuals to call out derogatory terms for the LGBT+ community and then I asked them to call out derogatory terms for heterosexual couples only, and they couldn’t think of any in comparison. It’s only natural that this abuse is going to affect that community, and often it’s based on claims with no factual evidence.”
Do you think it then affects the individual’s self-perception?
“Yeah, and then there is the issue of internalised homophobia, which is the result of experiencing homophobia and hate crime about the community whilst growing up. This can also be an onset for perpetrating abuse onto your partner as well. You internalise that abuse and use your partner as an outlet, as such.”
What solutions do you think will be most effective in tackling the problem of mental health?
“I think it’s just a matter of awareness raising, even though the LGBT+ community has made so many positive steps, we’ve got a really long way to go to be fully inclusive. I know that in the next academic year, they’re adding in LGBT+ sex education and healthy relationships into the secondary school curriculum. That’ll be a positive step.”
“It’s also a matter of appropriately challenging, whenever we can. A lot of the time, people have an unconscious bias, and some people might not even be aware of it. If we can raise that to people’s attention, sometimes someone might not realise they’re speaking to someone in a derogatory way. By raising it with them, they might realise they need to make a change.”
What is the difference between appropriate and inappropriate challenges to someone saying something homophobic?
“If someone said something derogatory, if it’s an inappropriate challenge, you could be getting defensive or getting argumentative with that person. You want to appropriately challenge someone, and question them on it. Say something such as “okay, I hear what you’re saying, but I wonder where you get the fact for that?” You can see what more detail comes out of the abuse, until the point where they question the evidence base for this themselves.”
“It can be frustrating when you see and hear homophobic comments around you. However, appropriate challenges question the lack of fact behind the statement, as they’re just assumptions.”
Is this a topic that the government should be placing more emphasis and a focus on?
“Definitely, I think that relationship education should be taught from a young age, and we need to be aware of healthy relationships, and I think we should be aware of different types of relationships as well. By raising awareness of LGBT+ relationships from a young age, this can improve the experiences for people that feel they should stay ‘closeted’. It’ll help improve and reduce the stigma.”
“This also includes special educational needs schools as well. Just because you have a learning difficulty doesn’t mean you’re not LGBT+ and that’s widely overlooked within society, as it’s two minority groups that people don’t realise intersect. A lot of the time, if someone is disabled, there is an assumption that they don’t have a sexuality and they don’t have a sex life. But they do, and they can be LGBT+ as well, so we should be aware of this.”
This might work for people entering the educations system now, but what can we do for people out of the education system already?
“I suppose actively campaigning within the community and raising awareness. There’s a few things happening in Cardiff during this LGBT+ history month. There’s always different ways that we can campaign as there’s always something in the media. Then it becomes a case of appropriately challenging these homophobic views in the best way we can.”
How do you think universities should handle the subject of LGBT+ mental health?
“Rainbow Bridge is putting on a focus group this month to capture the experiences of the LGBT+ community, and we’re getting input from the LGBT+ community on how we can promote best practise within our organisation. For universities, it may be worth putting together a focus group about how they can implement best practise, and hear it from the individuals themselves, and what they think is the best thing to do for their mental health. I would make that recommendation for Universities to do.”
“Cardiff University is a big university, I think more could be done to expand support services to each campus, which might help address some of the issues. It is particularly tricky as a large university, but getting the focus group will help gain some direction into the services needed and wanted by the community.”
In an ideal scenario, what support would be offered for LGBT+ people suffering from poor mental health in Cardiff?
“I would like to see a shorter waiting list, and I’d like to see more LGBT+ specific support organisations that focus on the specific issues facing the LGBT+ community, as well as more mental health organisations focussing on the needs of the LGBT+ community.”
“There’s also a need for more unique projects. Big charities can grow a unique project, with specific support for LGBT+ people. This helps to raise awareness over pronouns, mis-gendering someone and dead-naming someone, all things that larger organisations may not be aware of. In sum, I’d like to see more niche services such as Rainbow Bridge.”
What support would you like to see?
“Bespoke services that specialise in gender identity and sexuality. It’s hard to talk to someone about how you’re feeling, and is very difficult when they don’t understand how you’re feeling or how discovering yourself can impact your well being.”
“Mental health professionals with experience or training in specific LGBT+ issues.”
“LGBT+ targeted clinics and campaigns to tackle the sense of shame and alienation that we carry through from adolescence. As well as an open conversation about learning to conduct healthier relationships with fellow LGBT+ people.”
“More work to support trans individuals as their community is shown to suffer most when it comes to mental heath problems and harassment. There needs to be more mental health resources available to children coming to terms with their sexuality as well.”
“I think there are enough services, but often there is not enough awareness of the services and there is no specific support offered for LGBT+ folk.”
“Counselling that is clearly LGBT+ friendly needs to be available with much shorter waiting lists. Counsellors and supports staff must be well educated on LGBT+ issues, and particularly trans issues.”