An issue that affects every single of us at some point in our lives couldn't possibly be overlooked by policymakers, right? Wrong. When it comes to mental health, there is a lot of work to do!
All of us can face mental health challenges - it can affect us individually, as part of a family, or a wider community. The LGBTI community in particular can face specific challenges; many of which are still unseen or ignored by policymakers.
That is why ILGA-Europe wants to do something about it - by launching a campaign that has a message for individual LGBTI activists and policymakers.
There is a great need for support, the research on the subjects exists, there's an abundance of resources being produced by LGBTI groups... but the conversation that will link all these pieces up is still missing. We have to start talking about LGBTI mental health.
Come Out For Mental Health is ILGA-Europe's way of kick-starting the conversation.
- On an individual level, the taboo around mental health has persisted for far too long.
- Every single one of us has 'a mental health' - but even in 2017, there is still a resistance to talking openly about it, including in the LGBTI community. The time to talk is here and now.
- Many LGBTI organisations are already offering solutions and we need to link up with those services more. From support centres that provide a range of mental health services, to helplines, and working with governments to produce inclusive healthcare policies - there are some many great examples of how LGBTI organisations are supporting positive mental health. For example, Seta, one of our members in Finland, have set up a range of services focused on the mental health of LGBTI people - peer support for gender-variant kids and their parents, dressing rooms at their offices, online services, as well as support groups for older LGBTI people.
- And the LGBTI movement can offer each other a deep, meaningful system of support. For many LGBTI people, their friends and fellow activists are their family of choice; a support network who can understand their experiences in a way that their straight, cis friends might not. There is so much potential love and resilience waiting to be tapped into - if people can smash through the silence.
When it comes to the mental health of LGBTI people specifically, policymakers have definite responsibility. ILGA-Europe's campaign has several goals - not only do we want politicians to invest in services, we want them to think about the power behind the language they use from day to day.
Having your own personal life debated and dissected as part of a public discourse is something that many LGBTI people all over Europe have experienced. But what is not openly discussed is the real impact that this can have on the mental health of LGBTI people.
So, why do we need to come out for mental health? There are many events that can have a negative impact on the mental health of LGBTI people, including the effect of hostile public debates on the well-being of LGBTI people.
One example that always sticks with me was the news from our member organisation SOS Homophobie that calls to their phonelines asking for support had greatly increased during and after the equal marriage debates in France. (This was after a year-long political debate on the issue, accompanied huge by counter-demos, all heavily reported in the media). Similar concerns were raised in Ireland and are being discussed now by activists in Australia around their own equal marriage plebiscite.
Just to be clear - I'm not complaining about seeing LGBTI equality issues being more visible! But there can often be unintended consequences to this increased level of prominence. Politicians making LGBTI-phobic comments during debates, added to the ongoing daily discrimination and micro aggressions, online hate, the threat of bias-motivated crimes - all of this can contribute to minority stress.
That is why coming out for mental health is so important. Today, on World Mental Health Day, I'm inviting you join our Come Out For Mental Health conversation. The discussion around mental health in the LGBTI community is one that we all need to have, starting here and now.
Get involved with ILGA-Europe's campaign at www.ilga-europe.org/mental-health