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Breaking the silence in LGBTQ+ communities

The various discriminations that members of the LGBTQ+ community face on a daily basis are well documented and accounted for in the media and national conversations at large. These range from the overt harassment and hate crime we witness on the news to the more subtle micro-aggressions that LGBTQ+ people frequently contend with at work. What receives less attention, however, are the disproportionate levels of poor mental health within LGBTQ+ communities that result from the day-to-day struggles of being a member of a marginalised group. Living in a world in which you are made to feel like you don’t fit in requires constant effort. It means having to confront stigmas that render LGBTQ+ people particularly prone to loneliness, isolation, low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, whether at home or at work.

This Pride Month, we wish to make our contribution by breaking the silence around mental health in LGBTQ+ communities. By promoting awareness about mental health and providing the tools and support with which to address poor health and wellbeing among our LGBTQ+ peers, we aim to play our part in giving voice to a more diverse, inclusive and health-creating world. No strategy for improving mental and physical wellbeing in the workplace is complete unless it takes into account the vast disparities in our lived experiences that determine the ways different members of society think, feel and act on a daily basis.

Promoting awareness about mental health this Pride month means getting to grips with some of the key facts and figures that affect LGBTQ+ communities in the UK and abroad. Did you know that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to suffer from poor mental health than their heterosexual peers? A 2018 “LGBT in Britain” health report commissioned and published by Stonewall found that half of LGBTQ+ people (52%) reported having experienced depression in the past year. One in eight people aged 18 to 24 (18%) reported having attempted taking their own life, with numbers increasing for those over 24. The situation is even grimmer for members of the transgender and non-binary communities, of whom almost half consider taking their life every year. The prevalence of stigmas furthermore prevents LGBTQ+ people from seeking help, with one in seven (14%) having avoided treatment for fear of discrimination.

Mental health inequality is manifest in the ways LGBTQ+ people experience disproportionate rates of poor mental health, depression, anxiety and suicidal experiences compared to their heterosexual peers. But it is also manifest in more subtle forms, for example through lower levels of “self love”. Interestingly, a 2020 “Global Self Love Index” undertaken by The Body Shop revealed that LGBTQ+ people are nearly twice as likely to feel uncomfortable with themselves and suffer from low self-esteem compared to their cisgender and heterosexual peers. Self love refers to an appreciation for ourselves growing from actions that support our mental, physical and social health. Self love is severely disrupted by discriminatory practices that cause LGBTQ+ people to internalise the idea that they are less worthy of love, and hence less worthy of positive mental and physical health. The prevalence of low self love within LGBTQ+ communities across the world draws attention to the need to tackle prejudice and raise awareness about the importance and value of creating a more inclusive society. For employers, this means starting in the office.

LGBTQ+ people equally face various forms of discrimination in the workplace, whether when applying for a job or in the office environment itself. A recent study undertaken by Anglia Ruskin University found that gay and lesbian job applicants are up to 5% less likely to be offered job interviews compared to heterosexual applicants with the same skills and level of experience.

In the office environment itself, the situation is slightly different. Overt forms of harassment and hate crime make up relatively few of the total discrimination cases reported by LGBTQ+ people at work every year. Most of these entail subtler forms of discrimination among colleagues, for example micro-aggressions that communicate hostile, negative or derogatory attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people, or unconscious exclusion within teams or work groups.

These discriminatory practices can have a negative impact on the mental wellbeing of LGBTQ+ employees, as members of these communities have to deal with the additional pressure of managing negative and hostile work relationships. Furthermore, the fact that these discriminatory practices often take place unconsciously and out of sight means that they are even more difficult to deal with for employers wishing to put together an effective health and wellbeing strategy. That said, there are numerous programmes and initiatives that employers can put in place in order to address mental health inequality at work.

An effective mental and physical wellbeing strategy in the workplace needs to take into account the different wellbeing factors that affect various members of society. This means being aware of the particular challenges LGBTQ+ people face on a daily basis both within and outside the office. Below, we list a few suggestions for employers looking to do more in supporting their LGBTQ+ workers:

  • Promote Education and Awareness – Make sure you are raising awareness about diversity and mental health inequality in the workplace through the use of communication strategies as well as diversity and inclusivity training and advocacy. Supporting your LGBTQ+ employees has to start with raising awareness about the particular challenges they face on a daily basis.
  • Build LGBTQ+ Employee Networks – Many businesses use LGBTQ+ Networks as a tool for promoting more inclusive work environments and for offering LGBTQ+ employees a positive space in which to express their feelings and concerns. Networks could be led by Wellbeing Champions as part of a managed wellbeing strategy, or alternatively by independent LGBTQ+ volunteers within the business. Networks are an effective way to make LGBTQ+ people feel supported in their work environment.
  • Declare Your Pronouns – Many LGBTQ+ employees declare their preferred pronouns in advance, for example through the insertion of a “she/her” or “he/his” pronoun on their email signature, in order to prevent confusion and ensure that they are addressed in the desired manner by colleagues. This practice is particularly prevalent among members of the non-binary and transgender communities. Businesses can support this practice by encouraging other members of staff to participate and declare their pronouns, whether in email signatures or work intranets.
  • Reach Out to Your Local LGBTQ+ Communities – Businesses can reap the rewards of reaching out to their local LGBTQ+ communities, support groups and other related organisations. Community involvement not only makes your own LGBTQ+ work communities feel that you are taking their experiences seriously. It also allows you to make a meaningful difference to society and improve the lives of others outside your workplace.
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