What LGBT+ experiences affect mental health?
Being LGBT+ does not cause mental health problems. But some things you may go through as an LGBT+ person can negatively impact your mental health. This page covers:
- Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia
- Experiences of stigma and discrimination
- Difficult experiences of coming out
- Social isolation, exclusion and rejection
- ‘Conversion therapy’
You might also feel that other factors are more important for you. Your mental health problems might have nothing to do with your LGBT+ identity. Our page on causes of mental health problems lists factors that may affect anyone.
“The mental health problems I’ve had over the years closely intertwine with my identity as a trans person.”
Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia
Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia mean negative attitudes, assumptions and feelings towards LGBT+ people. This might be directed at you from people close to you, strangers, and wider society. You may even face homophobia, biphobia or transphobia from other LGBT+ people.
You might have experienced acts of homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying, humiliation or violence. This can be very traumatic.
But it can run deeper than any specific incident, or individual people. It can feel like an everyday part of the world you live in, and the way you experience your environment.
Internalised negative feelings
Everyone is exposed to homophobia, biphobia or transphobia in society. But when you are LGBT+, this can make you feel badly about your own sexuality or gender identity.
This is called internalised homophobia, biphobia or transphobia.
It’s linked to a variety of mental health problems, including:
“I grew up in a time when queer people were viewed by many as immoral, weird and even disgusting. As a result I began to hate myself.”
With the right support, you can overcome internalised homophobia, biphobia or transphobia. You can go on to develop a positive relationship with your sexual or gender identity.
Our page on LGBT+ mental health support might help.
Difficult experiences of coming out
Coming out means telling other people about your sexual orientation or gender identity. It is something that you will likely do many times during your life. You might find it liberating, allowing you to be yourself. It could also be very difficult and have painful consequences.
It’s understandable to worry about coming out. If you already tried and it went badly, you might not feel safe doing it again. Feeling unable to be your true self with people can be very stressful. Fears around coming out have been linked to low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
Deciding to come out takes courage. But after thinking about it you may decide not to come out, or not to come to everyone. That’s OK too. Whatever you decide, nobody should make that choice apart from you.
“The strain of having to present a different face to the world than one I identified with internally was anxiety-inducing, and meant that, when answering questions about my personal life or significant others, I would always feel… like I had to be on edge to ensure I didn’t ‘slip up’.”
Experiences of stigma and discrimination
There has some been progress towards inclusivity for LGBT+ people in recent years. But there may still be times when you are judged or treated unfairly because of who you are, or who you love. Or because of your mental health problems.
This could happen in:
- the healthcare system
- religious and faith groups
- school, college and university
- wider society.
Experiencing discrimination can increase your risk of poor mental health. And the fear of being discriminated against may mean you are less likely to seek support.
It’s important to know your legal rights. Certain kinds of discrimination are illegal, Hong Kong has four anti-discrimination laws under The Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance 1991 relating to sex, disabilities, family status, and race. However, there are currently no laws against anti-LGBT discrimination.
Social Isolation, exclusion and rejection
If those around you don’t accept you, you may feel excluded and rejected from important parts of your life. This might include family, work, social events and faith communities.
These connections are often important parts of our identities. Feeling cut off from them can make you feel isolated, lonely and insecure.
This is very upsetting, but it’s important to remember that it is not your fault, and you are not alone. Other LGBT+ people have faced similar struggles and may understand what you’re going through.
You might find it helpful to talk to other LGBT+ people, and share experiences. This is often called peer support. It can be online or in person. Our page on LGBT+ mental health support lists some options.
“I felt like I had to no choice but to hang out with my friends, not be out, hear homophobic language and just blend in. I could not be who I really was around certain people.”
Everyone experiences stress in their lives. But not everyone lives with the stress of social stigma and discrimination.
When you face this because you are in a minority community, like being LGBT+, we call it ‘minority stress’. It means people in this group live with higher stress compared to the general population.
You might be even more affected if you feel like you’re part of a minority within a minority. For example, if you are bi, trans or non-binary you may feel stigma even from within the LGBT+ community.
Living with minority stresses can have an impact on your physical and mental health.
You might find our pages on managing stress useful.
“I could not join the LGBT network at my university because the group was biphobic. I heard many of the members using the terms ‘greedy’ or ‘confused’. I couldn’t be my whole self anywhere.”
‘Conversion therapy’ is sometimes referred to as ‘cure’ therapy or ‘reparative’ therapy. It means any treatment that attempts to change or suppress your LGBT+ identity.
These treatments are unethical and harmful. Research evidence has found that they damage your mental health and wellbeing. Among other things, they can cause:
In Hong Kong the practice is still legal, despite pressure from local and international groups for the practice to be banned. Be aware of this when seeking help, as rare instances of a small minority of social workers still recommending conversion therapy to young people have been reported. Homosexuality was removed from the Chinese Psychiatric Society’s classification of mental disorders in 2001, your sexuality or gender identity is not a disorder and therefore you do not require this harmful “treatment”.