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GUEST BLOG: For many LGBTQ+ people, friendship is a literal lifesaver

Depression hits different when you’re queer. But feeling accepted can mean the world.

Words: Philip Ellis

Mental illness is, in many ways, a great leveller. It doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, or what part of the world you’re from. But being a member of an oppressed or marginalised group, like the LGBTQ+ community, can increase a person’s chances of struggling with mental illness in their lifetime.

Last year, the government’s National LGBT Surveyfound a greater prevalence of mental health issues in LGBTQ+ people. In fact, multiple studies have identified a higher proportionate risk of depression, alcoholism, drug addiction and other disorders in individuals who don’t identify as straight or cisgender.

It is hardly surprising that such conditions are so rife among LGBTQ+ people when their right to exist is forever being questioned, debated or mitigated by strangers in newspapers, on TV, and on social media. When trans and nonbinary people are continually vilified on national platforms. When the Home Officereports a year-on-year increase in violence against trans women. When even more hate crimes go unreported for fear that they won’t be taken seriously.

That constant influx of hate would have a negative impact on anyone, but when it comes to young people, who are only just beginning to figure themselves out and whose brains are literally still growing, it can be lethal. Because this is what leads them to internalise all kinds of harmful ideas; that there’s something wrong with them, that they’ll never be able to fall in love, that they are always going to be lonely. This, in part, is what leads to LGBTQ+ children and teenagers having the highest rate of suicide attempts.

Before you stop reading and put your head in your hands to bemoan the state of the world we live in, I hasten to add that it is not all bad news. Allow me to offer up one more statistic. According to suicide prevention organisation The Trevor Project, LGBTQ+ kids and teens who have at least one accepting adult in their lives are 40 per cent less likely to attempt suicide.

One. Accepting. Adult.

That’s all it can take to make a potentially live-changing difference. Maybe that person is a friend, a family member, a teacher, a colleague. Maybe it’s you.

Feeling seen and understood is something that seems completely out of reach for most young people, and that can be magnified when you also feel inherently different. Which is why it can be such a profound experience for a young person to then find a sense of belonging in the LGBTQ+ community — but we have to make sure they survive long enough to make it there.

Each Pride month, we have conversations about what it means to be an “ally”. It’s more than simply believing that everybody deserves the same rights and protections. It’s about being a friend. Because who wouldn’t use their voice, and whatever other means they had at their disposal, to help their friend when they were down? To stand up for them, to advocate for them in rooms where they themselves can’t make themselves heard?

Obviously there remains plenty of work to be done as a society to make LGBTQ+ people feel safer. I fear the road will be a long one, and we will lose more precious life along the way. But reaching out to somebody when we think they might be suffering, and letting them know that they’re not alone? That’s something we can all do right now.

If you’re struggling with your mental health and would like any advice or support, Living Well UK is here to help. You can call us for free on 0121 663 1217 or go online for our live chatline, where one of our specialist team members will be on-hand to talk and share any guidance.