Mental health day important for gay community

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Mental health charities are joining together today to stop the increasing rates of suicide caused by severe depression, an issue of great importance to the gay community.

World Mental Health Day, an international awareness campaign, aims to highlight the plight of those people suffering from severe mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia, which can lead to suicide.

National figures show that 111 people take their own lives in the UK each week, campaigners describe depression as a bigger killer than cancer.

A high proportion of these deaths may include the LGBT community, as a spokesperson from gay men’s health charity GMFA told “If you look at the data on the contemplation of suicide, gays and lesbians are six times more likely to think about it.”

The GMFA tackles mental health through specialised sessions with the gay community to help confront issues of assertiveness and self-confidence and self-defence.

Earlier this year a study by the Mental Health Foundation found that a quarter of young gay or bisexual men in Northern Ireland have attempted suicide.

Among the key factors which contributed to suicidal thoughts and self harm were homonegative experiences in school such as bullying, homophobia from other pupils and neighbours.

Another problem scarring the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is the fact that in some parts of the world homosexuality has only just been taken off a list of mental disorders.

Homosexuality was only declassified as a mental illness in 1992, there is therefore still stigma surrounding the issue which results in people fearing coming out and suppressing their true feelings

Mental health charity Mind says there is no doubt that lesbians, gay men and bisexual women and men still face discrimination within the present day mental health

The 2003 Mind/University College London report on the mental health of the LGB community concluded that up to 36 per cent of gay men, 26 per cent of bisexual men, 42 per cent of lesbians and 61 per cent of bisexual women had negative or mixed experiences with mental health professionals.

Mind’s 1997 report Without prejudice also found discrimination and prejudice that LGB receive within mental health services. Of the 55 people surveyed, 73 per cent “…reported actual experiences of prejudice, discrimination, harassment and even physical and sexual violence or rape.”

The report found that many doctors or therapists view sexual orientation as the problem or cause of mental distress.

This results in people fearing coming out and trying to suppress their true feelings, which obviously causes much distress.

This distress is even more confounded when people are denied their rights as a recent study in the US shows. Research by the National Sexuality Resource Centre in San Francisco found that same sex marriage bans cause mental stress.

The research, “I do, but I can’t,” says denying same-sex couples the same marriage rights as heterosexuals created “the mental distress of second-class citizenship.”

They claim bans across most US states increases depression and isolation.

The US military’s ban on openly gay recruits also adds to a feeling of isolation.

The awareness campaign is backed by international organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations.

The WHO estimates that 90% of people completing suicide have at least one (often undiagnosed and untreated) mental illness.

Over 1 million people die by suicide each year, according to WHO, and non-fatal self-inflicted injuries are estimated to be 20 times greater than completed suicides. In particular bipolar disorder suicide rate for bipolar averages at 1% annually, which is some 60 times higher than the international population rate of 0.015% annually.

“In many cases, suicide represents a tragic consequence of failing to recognise and treat severe mental illness,” said Shona Sturgeon, president of the World Federation for Mental Health.

“Studies from both developed and developing countries show a high prevalence of mental illness among those who die by suicide.”

The European Commission also has recently published a Green Paper on

mental illness to highlight the need to improve the mental health of the EU population.

The consultation report says that mental ill health affects everyone in the EU either directly or indirectly, and during the course of any one year 18.4 million people in the European Union aged between 18 and 65 are estimated to suffer from major depression.

Furthermore, it highlights some 58000 European Union citizens commit suicide each year, more than the annual deaths from road traffic accidents or HIV/AIDS, and points out that ten times this number attempt suicide.

The report also sets out that one in four people in Europe experience at least one significant episode of mental ill health during their lives.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said suicide should be getting more attention: “We are all deeply concerned — and rightly so — about deaths resulting from wars, homicide, terrorism and other forms of violence. Yet, deaths due to suicide, and the factors that can lead to it, do not receive nearly enough attention.”

“Left untreated, mental illness can be fatal. One of the best ways of reducing the disastrous impact of suicide is to tackle, in a community environment, the mental disorders that are linked so closely to it.”