Celebrating Mental Health Awareness Week: 14th – 20th May
The UK faces a significant mental health challenge at work.
The report, Thriving at Work (2017), states:
“There is a large annual cost to employers of between £33 billion and £42 billion (with over half of the cost coming from presenteeism – when individuals are less productive due to poor mental health in work) with additional costs from sickness absence and staff turnover.”
In this article I want to talk to you about LGBT+ mental health at work.
Before I talk about being LGBT+ at work, let me take you behind the scenes.
What You Don’t Know About LGBT+ Mental Health
You would think that when someone ‘comes out’ in all areas of their life, the inner struggle and turmoil they have experienced for months/years would be over.
Finally, they feel comfortable with themselves, everyone knows who they are and now they can start to build a life from a place of truth and authenticity.
Sadly, that isn’t the case.
The struggle continues.
Mental health issues, suicide and substance abuse are significantly higher for the LGBT+ community compared to the wider population; with many experiencing low self-esteem, PTSD, loneliness and the feeling of never being good enough.
Here Are The Statistics:
– taken from reports from LGBT Foundation, MIND Charity and Stonewall between 2015-2017.
MIND, the mental health charity state 42% of gay men and 70% of lesbians experience mental health problems, compared to 25% of the wider population.
- Suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 years in England and Wales. In 2016, 5,668 suicides were recorded in Great Britain. 75% were male and 25% were female.
- LGB people are twice as likely as heterosexual people to have suicidal thoughts or to make suicide attempts.
- 48% of transgender people under 26 years old have attempted suicide and 59% have considered doing so.
- One of the key risk factors for suicide and self-harm is social isolation.
- 77% of transgender people have used anti-depressants.
- 88% of transgender people have experienced depression compared to 25% in the wider population.
- 26% of lesbian, gay and bi-sexual people alter their behaviour to hide their sexual orientation to avoid being the victim of a hate crime. (I am one of those statistics….)
- 38% of transgender people have experienced physical intimidation and threats and 81% have experienced silent harassment (being stared at, whispered about etc.)
- 26% of LGB workers are not open to colleagues about their sexual orientation.
- LGBT+ people are more likely to experience hate crime, homelessness, unemployment, social isolation, abuse and violence – all of which increase the risk of and have a lasting, cumulative negative impact on an individual’s mental health.
LGBT+ Mental Health
When you come out, you lose all sense of who you all. Imagine – it is like all you have ever known is stripped away from you. The person you once presented to others is no longer. It can feel as though you are in limbo – not wanting to be that person you once were yet not knowing who you are and how to move forwards.
Many people experience an identity crisis and struggle to find and connect with who they really are.
It is common for people to go searching for answers to figure out who they are. Most people find a community of individuals experiencing similar things but very few find who they really are. They don’t know HOW to establish that deeper connection to themselves or re-connect to their true and authentic self.
In the search for like-minded people and to ‘fit in’, many individuals hit the gay bars, clubs and parties. Let me tell you… That image you have of gay bars being full of well-toned, perfect looking guys with their tops off dancing to disco music or drag queens walking around serving drinks from trays, it isn’t real. Not in my experience anyway…
There are 3 mental health issues that are prevalent today in the LGBT+ community: body dysmorphia, substance abuse and suicide and self-harm.
What You Need To Know About Gay Bars
Let’s talk drugs for a minute.
Recreational drug use and alcohol have become ingrained in the gay community’s identity. The drugs of choice range from Ecstasy, GHB, Mephedrone, speed, Tina (crystal meth) and poppers. Throw some alcohol in the mix and you have the ingredients for a very messy evening and few days ahead. Now imagine you do this every weekend, without fail.
Your employees may be feeling pretty rough on Monday mornings…
Underlying the substance abuse that is rife in the LGBT community are repressed feelings such as ones of isolation, rejection, shame, loneliness and sadness.
Internalising the negative messaging received over the years, many individuals within the LGBT+ community are unable to accept themselves and are disconnected from their true self.
Drug use masks those feelings of low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, guilt and confusion around sexual or gender identity. Many turn to alcohol and substance use to deal with the underlying mental distress.
The gay scene, in my experience, is not a place of acceptance, peace, deep connections and authenticity.
Yet, it serves its purpose. For many the gay scene is a safe space to be yourself and explore your sexuality, where you can access other LGBT people.
If you’re questioning why you feel like you don’t belong in the gay bars or you’re simply done with the gay scene, you’re not alone. There are thousands of LGBT people out there who feel the same way.
This is my experience of being on the gay scene – in gay bars.
I was looking for a safe space to be myself and to meet other LGBT people.
The reality was I felt like I didn’t belong. Excessive alcohol consumption, people high on different concoctions of drugs, dancing and loud music is what you see on the surface.
Underneath the surface I felt uneasy and on edge as my every move was watched by people looking for their next conquest. I felt on many occasions that I had walked into a meat market, with people looking at how I was dressed, how I acted, looking at my body and making a judgement on my appearance. I noticed my friends comparing themselves to others and as a result dressing or acting differently to try to fit in. There was a constant presence of dieting and crazy fasting to try to look slimmer, healthier and be more attractive to the crowds of onlookers in the bars.
The bars and clubs were predominantly male-orientated (unless we went to a female only bar) and I felt uncomfortable being affectionate with my partner. Crazy when you think ‘I am in a gay bar.’ There appeared to be lots of drama and gossiping going on all around us.
Everyone knows each other or knows of each other. Bad reputations spread like wild-fire as do details of your latest conquest.
It’s hard to find a good group of gay friends on the gay drinking scene. I found most were drinking buddies not deep, lasting, authentic friendships.
Yet I know of many hobby related LGBT groups that are incredibly supportive spaces where deep, lasting friendships are formed. These groups are out there – if you think to look for them.
When I was coming out (15 years ago), Facebook and other social media channels did not exist. It was much harder to find out information about LGBT+ groups in the local area, without outing yourself. The gay bars were the only talked about place to meet other gay people.
Nowadays, information and access to LGBT+ resources, groups and social activities are at your fingertips.
How To Support Your LGBT+ Employees With Their Mental Health
- Don’t expect people to ‘come out’ at work. Creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels safe to be their true and authentic self is essential. You don’t ask your heterosexual or cis-gendered individuals to declare their sexual or gender identity. Why would you expect others to declare it?
- Create an inclusive environment where individuals can express themselves fully: with colleagues and customers/clients, through their choice of clothing, the use of preferred pronouns and name etc.
- Provide gender neutral bathrooms.
- Get your record keeping and personal information documentation up to date. Ensure you are not ‘outing’ people by the language you use on your forms.
- Continually ask yourself – what more could I do to be ahead of the game and to be a supportive and inclusive employer? Include Non-Binary, Trans and LGBT+ issues in your on-going awareness training: including use of preferred pronouns and name, what questions to ask and not ask etc.
- Don’t wait for your LGBT+ employees to point something out to you that you need to be aware of. Anticipate it and do something about it now.
- Educate your customers, clients and suppliers. Create a working environment where your non-binary, trans and LGB colleagues can be comfortable to bring all of who they are to work.
- Break the stigma attached to mental health by having regular conversations about it within your organisation. This will develop mental health awareness among your employees.
- Promote wellbeing. Get wellbeing on your agenda for staff meetings. Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available. Discuss it at every meeting and make a commitment to improving team and individual wellbeing.
- Be a role model. Make a public commitment to improving your wellbeing.
- Share your personal experiences of mental health and wellbeing (if appropriate)
- Provide good working conditions and ensure employees have a healthy work-life balance and opportunities for development. For instance: ensure healthy boundaries with working hours. Break the concept of ‘first in, last out’. Encourage regular breaks and no working from home when you leave the office for the day.
- Provide staff training and workshops on resilience, stress awareness and strategies to reduce stress, mental health awareness and LGBT+ self-care (vitally important).
- Have information available for employees to access mental health support, substance abuse support etc – confidential services that can be self-referred to.
- Be tuned into the issues LGBT individuals face. Educate yourself about body dysmorphia, substance abuse, mental health etc. Know what to look out for and the steps to take to support a colleague.
- Become an LGBT+ ally.
- Create opportunities for peer support amongst your LGBT staff.
- Encourage peer and cross-organisation mentoring opportunities.
- Team building – be mindful of isolation and arrange for regular team building events.
- Staff social events – encourage non-alcohol related activities.
Your LGBT employees are a huge asset to your organisation.
Nurture them, support them, understand their issues and together you will thrive.
That’s what you want, right? A thriving, happy, authentic business and individuals.
Together you will build something you are all proud to be associated with.
For more information about the work Gina does with organisations visit http://ginabattye.com/lgbt-services.
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