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March 31, 2014 | by  | in Features Homepage | [ssba]

We Need to Talk

In 2012, I, a queer youth, became manically depressed. After failing all of my university courses and alienating friends and family, I had to rebuild not just not my life – but myself too. While the depression has been dealt with, I recently restarted taking medication after my anxiety spiralled out of control. Praise Gaga for Prozac. The truth is: I’m one of the lucky ones. I survived. I come from a supportive, middle-class family who were able to afford the services of one of Hawke’s Bay’s leading psychologists who was instrumental in my recovery. Too often, queer youth don’t even make it to therapy. They kill themselves before then.

The literature on queer mental health does not make for positive reading. We are overrepresented in every statistic. In particular trans*, intersex and bisexual people, as well as queers from rural areas, are identified as being most at risk. What is most disturbing is that New Zealand, generally, has one of the highest youth-suicide rates in the OECD. So when one considers the “robust evidence” that states “homosexual populations (in New Zealand) are more at risk of suicide and mental health problems than the heterosexual population,” it is evident that we, as a country, face a significant crisis. Our young people need help.

International reports state that gay men are 4.5–7.6 times more likely to experience depression and other mood-related disorders than their heterosexual counterparts. The same reports indicated that 41.6 per cent of lesbians would also struggle with these mental illnesses, compared to 32.7 per cent of straight women. Sadly, the more at-risk groups are even more likely to experience these mood-related disorders. Bisexual individuals were singled out in these reports as being more at risk from alcohol dependency, substance abuse and self-harm. Bisexual invisibility  (society’s dismissal of bisexuality as a valid sexual orientation) and the often simultaneous exclusion from both homosexual and heterosexual communities may be the driving factors behind these last statistics.

Queer individuals are also more likely to experience body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and other body-image-related mental illnesses such as anorexia and bulimia. Trans* people are most affected by BDD, as they struggle with society’s gender binary and, for some, the feeling of being born in the wrong body. Bisexuals are once again overrepresented as they are more likely to suffer from bulimia, while gay men can struggle with body-image issues as they strive to obtain the perfect toned gym bod. Boys: the ‘v’ is sexy, but it should not come at the expense of your mental health.

Poor queer mental health is caused by a variety of factors, including: “minority stress”, uncertainty of identity, unsupportive family and friends, isolation, sexual-health issues and the fear of coming out, to name a few.  It is these issues that lie at the heart of our frighteningly high suicide rates. When these concerns are not talked about and resolved, depression can take hold and suicidal thoughts may manifest. Depression is a prick of a thing. Initially, I welcomed its onset – it taught me not to feel. However, I soon didn’t give a shit about anything and became the subservient plaything of a cruel mental illness. What causes depression and the suicidal thoughts that may follow is different for everyone. Therefore: there is no one treatment. Particular medications work for some people and not for others; some people will need/want to see a psychologist or a psychiatrist and others will be more comfortable talking to loved ones. The more tailored the treatment and, for young people, the longer they stay on medication the better. What is most important is that an individual’s depression and suicidal ideation is recognised before it is too late. Every suicide is a tragedy.

So, where to from here?

Well, here are my suggestions.

Firstly: we need a better-educated healthcare system. Doctors and nurses who refuse to use the preferred gendered pronouns of patients are doing a complete disservice to the trans* population. Also, their preoccupation with our genitals and sexual practices is detrimental to our mental health. Treat queers equally – it is all I ask.

Secondly: we need better support services, particularly in schools. Tabby Besley’s Queer–Straight Alliance (QSA) Network is a fabulous organisation that aims to provide safe spaces in secondary schools for at-risk queer youth. The Government needs to roll out Tabby’s programme nationwide.

Thirdly: We need to talk more. The more conversations we have about mental-health issues the better. This, combined with the exposure of at-risk populations to campaigns like ‘It Gets Better’ and ‘The Lowdown’ fronted by John Kirwan, makes it more likely our people are going to overcome depression and the desire to commit suicide.

So, if you are, or you know, a queer person who is struggling with a mental illness, talk to someone. Anyone. And together we can knock the bastard off.



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