As a person who is queer and managing a mental illness, it is important to be defiant in our acceptance of mental health problems in the same way that we would about our sexuality or gender identity. The queer population is at a greater risk of developing mental health problems because of the minority stress that the community suffers as a result of environmental triggers like prejudice, oppression and discrimination.The key factor to remember is that higher incidence of mental health issues in the LGBT+ community is not a result of gender or sexuality.
In a country like India where both mental health and non-binary identities are topics that are neglected despite being essential parts of an individual’s identity, it can be quite challenging to navigate through issues regarding the same. Accessibility to affordable and quality mental health services is a serious difficulty that the queer Indian population faces. Some mental healthcare providers in India still treat homosexuality and bisexuality as pathological conditions to be cured. There are others who just refuse to attend to the queer population. In such a situation, it is essential that the voice against discrimination be raised loud enough that there are policy changes and healthcare guidelines adopted to support the cause of mental health for the queer Indian population.
It is also essential for the queer community to equip ourselves with whatever mental health resources are available to us, such as forming quality social relationships and healthy habits that act as positive reinforcements.
This is a guide that can help you navigate through different concerns that you may have in dealing with mental health issues as a queer individual.
How to have a conversation about your mental health with a close one:
The initial phase of managing a mental health can be the most confusing. You may have conflicting feelings about your diagnosis, your therapist, your self efficacy regarding how you will cope through the experience. It’s important to remind yourself that these are natural feelings to have. With this reassurance, try your best to organize your thoughts so that you can approach someone you want to open up to.
Find a physical space and time that makes you feel comfortable talking. Essentially, where and when you choose to open up to someone should serve as a catalyst and encourage you in the process. Sometimes places with sentimental value, such as a park you and your sibling have frequented constantly, or the beach where you always hung out with a friend can help stimulate the conversation by serving as a reminder of the connection you share with the person.
Finding your person
Make a list of all the possible people you feel comfortable talking to about your personal life. From this list, try to identify what makes a person comfortable to talk to. Is it their manner of listening calmly and responding gently? Their enthusiasm in trying to help you feel better? Noting these attributes may help you identify the most approachable people around you.
Life imitates art
Talk about popular entertainment and try to figure out what their attitudes towards mental health and the queer community are like. This is probably the safest litmus test to gain insight into how the person would involve themselves with these issues in real life.
Testing the waters
People are most comfortable discussing things that they are familiar with. Try asking them if they ever felt unusually stressed or anxious and what it felt like. Most people at some point in their lives experience a memorable period of distress. If they do share their experiences and ask you about yours, it’s likely that they are capable of empathising with you.
The bigger picture
Ask them about their opinions regarding mental health:
- if they believe that people with mental health problems have rights - if they believe that mental health is an important conversation to have
Sometimes people may have some questionable opinions to which you may have to look at through context. For example: Someone’s experiences with living with a parent with a mental illness could have led to them forming biased opinions. However, the important detail to notice is if they’re open minded. If they are open to accepting that their views may be biased and that they are ready to delve into the topic to gain a more informed understanding, they may make good listeners.
However, it’s always optimal to look for someone who already has informed opinions regarding mental health and the queer community because this makes it easier to have a difficult conversation. This way, you can direct your energy towards opening up, rather than having to worry if they are on the same page.
Know your “ask”
Identify what kind of help you desire to seek from your close one. Are you someone who prefers emotional or practical support? What are some areas in your life that you would want them to help with? This will help you communicate your needs well and also help them to understand how they can make themselves available to you and contribute to your mental health.
Strong and steady
If you have been able to communicate to a close one, and been able to bare your mind to them, keep them close. When fighting through a mental illness, you may often feel that other people are not being genuine, because of feelings of anxiety and insecurity. If they’ve repeatedly assured you that they are ready to listen, and have stayed true to their word, allow them to help you.
Show them you’re making efforts
By assuring them that you’re trying to take steps in the right direction, you may help relieve them of any tensions regarding your well being. It would help shift the focus from worrying about you to helping you manage your mental health.
On social media: Most queer individuals find it easier to discuss their identity online as it provides access to supportive communities and safe spaces. Even if a social media friend is not queer, it can be easy to disclose personal information to someone who is not directly involved in the individual’s physical reality.
When a social media friend knows about your queer identity, it is natural to feel comfortable disclosing information regarding mental health as well. It might provide a positive outlet and an opportunity for conversation, particularly when living in a conservative society where mental health, gender and sex are topics of taboo.
-Do remind them that you feel comfortable opening up to them because you trust them, and in the same trust you also expect them to respect your confidentiality.
-Do notice if they treat you as less of an individual because of what you’ve disclosed to them. They shouldn’t view you as a mentally ill person, rather a person with a mental illness.
-Although someone close to you may be a great listener, and makes you feel more comfortable than a therapist, it is important to stay aware of the distinction. Using someone as a substitute therapist may deplete their energy and affect your relationship with them.
-Write a letter: Mental Health America provides a helpful format to help you fill in your feelings when sharing your mental health struggles to a close one, in the form of a letter:
For the past (day/week/month/year/__________), I have been feeling (unlike myself/sad/angry/anxious/ moody/agitated/lonely/hopeless/fearful/overwhelmed/ distracted/confused/stressed/empty/restless/unable to function or get out of bed/__________).
I have struggled with (changes in appetite/changes in weight/loss of interest in things I used to enjoy/ hearing things that were not there/seeing things that were not there/ feeling unsure if things are real or not real/ my brain playing tricks on me/ lack of energy/increased energy/ inability to concentrate/alcohol or drug use or abuse/self-harm/skipping meals/overeating/overwhelming focus on weight or appearance/feeling worthless/ uncontrollable thoughts/guilt/paranoia/nightmares/ bullying/not sleeping enough/ sleeping too much/risky sexual behavior/overwhelming sadness/losing friends/unhealthy friendships/unexplained anger or rage/isolation/ feeling detached from my body/feeling out of control/ thoughts of self-harm/cutting/thoughts of suicide/plans of suicide/abuse/sexual assault/death of a loved one/__________).
Telling you this makes me feel (nervous/anxious/hopeful/embarrassed/ empowered/pro-active/mature/self-conscious/guilty/__________), but I’m telling you this because (I’m worried about myself/it is impacting my schoolwork/it is impacting my friendships/I am afraid/I don’t want to feel like this/I don’t know what to do/I don’t have anyone else to talk to about this/I trust you/__________).
I would like to (talk to a doctor or therapist/talk to a guidance counselor/talk to my teachers/talk about this later/create a plan to get better/talk about this more/find a support group/__________) and I need your help.
Sincerely, (Your name__________)
Personal Tool Kit
A personal tool kit is an essential mental health resource. By investing your energy in building a repository of coping strategies, you would be able to empower yourself and keep a positive attitude about managing your mental health.
A personal tool should help you develop healthy habits and reinforce positive thoughts and behaviours. It is not about achieving every goal, but the motivation to keep making efforts to achieve these goals.
Some tools that you can use according to the domains of health, socialization and work life are:
Instructional guide: Noting down your requirements from a close one can help provide clarity about how they can help you manage your mental health. Based on your comfort level with the person, you could be as distinct about specific areas and the extent of support that you would like to seek from them.
Health and hygiene: One of the most noticeable symptoms of a mental illness is usually a lapse in the individual’s personal hygiene. While this could be a reflection of the dire distress that the person is going through, disabling them from basic functioning, it is also critical that the person starts making efforts towards improvement.
Focusing on improving physical health can serve as a catalyst in bettering mental health. Staying hydrated, following a balanced diet and regular exercise when practiced regularly, do have an immense impact on reducing anxiety. Practising these habits contribute to the effect of other mental health strategies like therapy and medication.
Making note of your day to day hygiene and health habits can serve as a useful reminder. Furthermore, with a daily set of goals to achieve, each day is a new slate, allowing space for improvement. You could rely on a variety of tools for the same purpose:
1. Personal diary
Opting for a personal diary is probably the most flexible options for tracking habits. You can use your imagination to build an organization of healthy habits that you are trying to focus on, with items and lists tailored to best suit your needs and goals. You can also use your personal diary to make note of your moods, stress levels, and positive thoughts.
2. Visual reminders
Using charts or posters that serve as visual reminders could be creative options that help you follow through your healthy habits. Pinterest has innumerable templates of different habits with varying time scales, which you can explore.
3. Phone apps
Although limiting screen time can have mental health benefits, making use of technology to aid mental health improvement can be a smart and efficient strategy. There are apps available for helping better navigate through all sorts of self care. Some examples include:
– Fabulous: Self care
Drink Water Reminder: Water Alarm (Kwench)
When trying to deal with mental illness, it can be hard to maintain a steady social life. It could be feelings of anxiety, the stigma of having a mental illness, or even the difficulty in accepting help from others which could lead one to isolating themselves from forming and maintaining healthy social relationships.
However, a strong social support system can be a tremendously encouraging mental health resource. Aside from a therapist, close ones can play an important role in helping manage mental illness. Having people who are genuine around you can help build confidence and build trust. Social support can also help reinforce positive behaviours.
Tips for maintaining healthy social relationships:
1. Give time Set aside time to engage yourself in social activities. Recognize your social requirements and the amount of time you would usually invest in building relationships to help formulate an idea of how much time you would be comfortable making efforts to socialize. You could involve a close one with personal coping strategies like exercise or a hobby, which could act as a positive influence to stay motivated.
– Pill reminder and medication tracker by Medisafe
2. Be involved
Try to be genuine in your interactions with others. Recognize how much energy you would be able to invest in being available for a close one and try to make the most out of this time. Fostering deep connections with people which go beyond small talk and involve discussions of personal matters with expressions of mutual support can be a powerful enhancer of mental health. Finding an organisation or community which reflect your values and interests could help connect with people that you can communicate better with.
3. Social media
Social media can be a particularly useful platform for socializing when it is difficult to exert physical energy. Although social media interaction should not be considered a substitute for face to face interaction, it can serve as an easily accessible form of communication, especially during severe mental illness episodes. Furthermore, social media interaction could also help encourage and translate into real life interaction.
4. Stay alert
When striving for quality relationships with people, it is also important to be wary of those who can harm your mental health. People who are insensitive, aggressive and toxic can further bring you down and may even act as triggers to mental illness. By directing yourself away from these people, you can conserve your energy and focus on building positive relationships with those who matter.