If you’re experiencing bullying or discrimination because of your sexuality it most likely feels horrible.

It can make it difficult to enjoy life and to feel understood and supported and may leave you feeling unhappy or frustrated. If your difficulties seem to be going on for weeks or months, or are impacting on things like your sleep, appetite, school work or your concentration, then it might be time to get some help.

Sexuality, gender identity and mental health

Not all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered or Intersex (LGBTI) people face the same issues in their lives, but there are some common experiences that can affect your wellbeing. These can include:

  • Feeling ‘different’ from other people
  • Feeling pressure to deny or change your sexuality
  • Worries about ‘coming out’ to friends and family members, and
  • The possibility of being rejected or ridiculed
  • Difficulty fitting in and coping at school
  • Bullying, whether verbal or physical
  • Feeling unsupported or misunderstood by family or friends

These pressures can be very stressful, especially when combined with all the other issues in your life such as managing school or university, finding a job, forming relationships and making sense of your identity and your place in the world.

Mental health

Mental health is about being able to work and study to your full potential, cope with day-to-day life stresses, be involved in your community, and live your life in a free and satisfying way. Discrimination, abuse and being made to feel ‘different’ because of your sexuality or gender identity can make it difficult to enjoy life fully
and to have a sense of wellbeing. It can make it hard to ask for help when problems come up, and to know where to turn when you need help and support.

Why do mental health problems develop?

There is no single cause of mental illnesses. Instead, they usually result from a number of overlapping factors including:

  • Biological factors such as the genes inherited from your parents
  • Early life experiences such as abuse, neglect, or the loss of someone close to you
  • Individual factors such as your level of self-esteem, coping skills and thinking styles
  • Current circumstances, for example stress at school or work, worries about money, difficult personal relationships, or problems within your family

When does your mental health become a problem?

Things to look out for include:

  • Changes in behaviour – such as being more or less talkative, or more aggressive
  • Changes in mood – such as feeling sadder or more anxious than usual
  • Changes in relationships – for example falling out with friends or your partner, or conflict with family
  • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns – such as sleeping or eating more or less than usual, or losing or gaining weight rapidly
  • Changes in coping – feeling overwhelmed or tired of life

While it’s normal to experience some of these changes from time to time, it’s time to ask for some help if they last longer than usual, affect most areas of your life, or stop you from doing the things you usually enjoy.

Getting help

Getting help early can reduce the effects of mental health problems on your life, and the chance of having more serious problems in the future.

Some LGTBI young people find it especially hard to ask for help, perhaps because of discrimination by health professionals in the past, worries about privacy, or difficulty talking to strangers about sexuality or gender identity. It’s important to find someone you trust and feel comfortable with. Remember that your local doctor (general practitioner – GP) and other health professionals are knowledgeable about LGTBI issues, and experienced in working with LGTBI young people.
Start with your local community health centre or headspace centre. A trusted friend, teacher or family member might also be able to recommend someone. It can take time to find the health professional who is right for you, so don’t give up if you don’t find the right person straight away. Remember that you don’t have to discuss your sexuality if you don’t feel comfortable or safe.

Helping yourself

You can take some action to help yourself stay mentally healthy and reduce the risk of developing mental health problems. Here are some strategies to use when you’re feeling stressed out or having a hard time:

  • Eat well
  • Get enough sleep
  • Spend time with people you trust and who make you feel good about yourself
  • Talk to people
  • Exercise
  • Avoid using alcohol and other drugs
  • Find time for enjoyable activities in your day
  • Get help early if things aren’t improving

For more information you can visit Rainbow Network at rainbownetwork.net.au