A new guidebook on mental health for LGBTQ community tackles associated stigma, misinformation

Due to long-standing stigma surrounding mental illnesses and the perception of the LGBTQIA+ community as a ‘minuscule minority’, no substantial research exists on the community's state of mental health in the Indian context. To create solutions, one first needs to identify the problems. “Data is what India requires to build on mental health care across the country,” says Manoj Chandran, CEO of the NGO White Swan Foundation, whose work focuses on delivering knowledge and spreading awareness about mental health and well-being. They have a large repository of freely accessible information that has been systematically put together, to aid people in making informed mental health related decisions.

White Swan Foundation’s latest effort is the publication of an e-book titled Mental Health 101: LGBTQIA+ Edition, which aims to serve as a handy guidebook for members of the community. It comprehensively documents mental health issues and identifies their causes, discusses methods of self-care, provides supportive tips for when coming out or seeking help, and talks about the importance of spreading awareness. The e-book, which took about six months to put together, will soon be available in Hindi, Bangla, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam.

Within any community, mental health issues stem largely from oppression and a lack of acceptance, and the biggest hurdles for LGBTQIA+ individuals in India are social stigma and misinformation attached to the community, resulting from a lack of knowledge among masses.

According to Mahesh Natarajan, Bengaluru-based counsellor at InnerSight Counselling and Training Services, common struggles among LGBTQIA+ individuals are “concerns of identity and belonging, and the anxieties and mood issues stemming from these concerns.” Other issues include bullying, abuse, violence and related trauma, besides other life-stage issues that manifest with varying intensities. However, members of the community often hesitate while seeking help, because of damaging experiences with mental health professionals, who resort to labelling their identities as a mental illness, and try to "cure" them, thereby revealing damaging prejudices and insensitivity. “Awareness among mental health professionals really is the key limitation,” adds Natarajan.

Another important aspect of mental health and well-being is cohesiveness among the community. “I would like to see all our LGBTQIA+ communities be aware of mental health, as a means of self-care and community care,” says Rohini Malur, queer poet and writer. Organised on-ground and online community-building gives individuals a place to turn to when looking for a safe space, and people with whom one can freely express themselves. “More and more of us are in the mental health field too, which is a direct way to expand the industry and make it more accepting,” explains Malur.

 A new guidebook on mental health for LGBTQ community tackles associated stigma, misinformation

Another important aspect of mental health and well-being is cohesiveness among the community. Photo credit: Reuters/P Ravikumar.

A massive wave of support for individuals of the LGBTQIA+ community in India has followed the striking down of Section 377. “The relief of not being criminalised is huge. It allows people to be able to talk of their issues and concerns with much less fear, and without the stigma of being unconvicted felons,” says Natarajan. However, Section 377 is not the last barrier for the community, since phobia is still rampant in society. “Many of our mental stressors are the same,” explains Malur.

Even after 377, microaggression abounds. People making faces, not making the effort to understand the spectrums of gender and sexuality, casual use of slurs and stereotypes, and the assumptions based on those, “talking with loved ones who always, always are hopeful that you will change your mind”, and countless others acts of discrimination cause discomfort to LGBTQIA+ individuals, making daily life a major struggle every step of the way. “The daily disrespect is a violence against the social norms that call for kindness, and a drain on our spiritual and emotional strength,” explains Malur.

Allies must also make concerted efforts to normalise LGBTQIA+ individuals within the folds of society. “Hire, work with and engage with queers. We exist in your daily life. Changes in society are not one step actions. They require multiple engagements and interventions every day,” says Malur. Speaking up when witnessing bigotry and challenging the normalisation of slurs are the basic benchmarks for respect. “All of this is dependent on the recognition of our common and equalising humanity,” she adds.

Often, however, “people don’t even understand that they are being stigmatic in what they say and do,” Chandran says. This hate and fear is sometimes internalised by individuals of the community, leading to toxic and potentially damaging thoughts. Every individual in society, therefore, becomes a powerful stakeholder, and a possible ally, for the LGBTQIA+ community. “Knowledge [dispersal] is perhaps the very first thing that must happen to be able to empower the members and their allies, so that their decisions are in the right direction,” Chandran says, emphasising on a how a collective dialogue on the subject is the need of the hour.

Updated Date: Aug 04, 2019 12:04:10 IST