Editor’s note: LGBTIQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer or questioning. We’ve used the term LGBTIQ+ on this page but we understand this doesn’t cover all the different ways people define their gender or sexuality. Stonewall has an extensive glossary that includes additional terms.
I didn't realise I was so different to my peers until I reached my teens.
I’d always felt like the odd one out. In primary school, my accent was different from many of the others in my class. I was also slower to finish my work due to being on the autistic spectrum.
I couldn’t wait to get to secondary school. I hoped that starting fresh, with new classmates in the same boat would bring an end to the bullying I’d experienced for years.
Predictably, secondary school was not the perfect new start I had been longing for.
My accent was still very “out of place”, and I began struggling with my mental health. A friend told my peers that I was self-harming.
Instead of sympathy, it just became another reason to bully me.
Discovering and accepting my bisexuality
So, when I left school and entered the adult world, I didn't think anything else could make me feel more isolated. Until I realised I found girls equally as attractive as boys. Sometimes, even more so.
Gradually, I started to accept my place in the LGBTIQ+ community. I came out to my friends and family as bisexual.
Some attitudes towards bisexuality
There shouldn't be anything "untoward" about this chapter of my story. I was learning who I was, much like others do in their adolescence.
However, although I accepted who I was whole-heartedly, others didn’t.
I realised I was no longer just a target for my peers. Suddenly, I was also a target for the rest of the world. I watched politicians use words like "abomination" or "immoral" when talking about my community.
Even in the LGBTIQ+ circle, attitudes and opinions can be less than welcoming. In fact, my first experience of direct biphobia happened during a Pride march.
Talking to others from the bisexual community, I realise my story is, sadly, far from unique.
A report published by Stonewall, the LGBTIQ+ charity, suggests that 52 percent of LGBTIQ+ people have experienced depression in the last year. Meanwhile, 13 percent of LGBTIQ+ people aged 18-24 have attempted to take their own lives in the previous 12 months.
I see those numbers, and my heart breaks. I understand why and how it happens, and it hurts me.
Then, I come to the sobering realisation that I am part of both of those statistics.
Finding help can be difficult
In my experience, support can differ depending on where you live.
While my friends who live in cities can often use services provided by LGBTIQ+ charities, I find that living in a rural area makes me feel more isolated.
According to the Centre for Mental Health, 50 percent of England's population live in predominantly rural areas.
The same article tells us that funding for mental health focuses on crisis-intervention, with most services placed in areas "according to need". As a result, service locations tend to be placed in areas with higher percentages of people registered with serious mental illnesses. That means densely populated locations, like cities.
With a combined lack of mental health services and unreliable public transport, people living in rural areas can have difficulty accessing the help they need. The Centre for Mental Health suggests:
“…if people do not "see" services in their community, they believe they are non-existent. This has led to a culture of self-reliance and stoicism towards mental health issues which can prevent people from seeking support earlier, instead only seeking support when they have already reached "crisis" stage.”
Thankfully, the NHS can provide standard mental health help, which has helped millions over the last decade. However, the maximum waiting time for help is 18 weeks. Though they hope to see you sooner, there's no guarantee how long you'll need to wait.
The issue with discrimination and heteronormativity
According to the Mental Health Foundation, around one in eight LGBTIQ+ people have experienced unequal treatment from healthcare staff because they are LGBTIQ+.
One in seven have avoided treatment for fear of discrimination.
I have faced heteronormativity as a single mother. So, I’ve become more hesitant in recent years when disclosing my sexuality to healthcare providers.
As a result, the only LGBTIQ+ specific support I have ever received was a brief discussion with a Samaritans volunteer at Belfast Pride. My chat with her was the first time I ever came out.
Still, no one should lose hope.
LGBTIQ+ mental health services and helplines
Slowly, but surely, the world is becoming more tolerant. There are more LGBTIQ+ mental health resources online than ever before. If you have an internet connection, some help is available.
Here are some you may find useful:
- LGBTIQ+ Switchboard. Switchboard is an LGBTIQ+ helpline. They’ll help you with whatever you want to talk about. All conversations are confidential. You can contact them by calling 0300 330 0630 (10am-10pm daily).
- Maytree, for those who live in or near London. Maytree provides support for people who are feeling suicidal and provides a 4-day or 5-day stay. Call 020 7263 7070 if you need help.
- Papyrus is a charity for the prevention of young suicide. They run HOPELineUK, which is a National Confidential Helpline. Phone: 0800 068 41 41 or you can email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Mon-Fri 10am-10pm / Weekends & Bank Holidays 2-10pm)
- Pride Counselling matches you with a licensed therapist. You can communicate via video chat, phone call, or even messaging.
- Stonewall’s Information Service will help you with specific questions the best they can.
- Mind.org is a site crammed with information and personal stories on and from the LGBTIQ+ community.
Though you may feel lost sometimes, there are charities and organisations in the UK, and worldwide, that will help.
One thing, hopefully, is comfortingly clear: you are never alone.
NPS-IE-NP-00261 April 2021