As per a report published by Statista Research Department on July 20, 2021, “as of 2017, more than 14 percent of the total population in India suffers from variations of mental disorders.” While studies around mental health and the LGBTQ population in India are rare, one report talking about LGBTQ mental health in India, published in 2020, does show high rates of mental health concerns. A TREVOR project survey reported that young LGBTQ individuals are likely to suffer 1.75 times more anxiety and depression than the general population, specifically the transgender population. They are even more vulnerable, suffering from up to 2.4 times more anxiety and depression.
Even post the reading down of IPC Section 377, the LGBTQ community still faces intense prejudice, discrimination, and violence because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. These prejudices and discriminations have both systemic, social, and personal impacts.
On a systemic level, social stigmas can impact one’s livelihood and deny basic dignity. Sometimes the systems also deny them access to welfare measures, such as basic healthcare and safer learning environments. While on a social level, stereotypes can impact psychological health in almost all avenues, from workplaces to healthcare systems. On a personal level, the same prejudice and discrimination will harm their mental health, forcing individuals to live a fake life by concealing or denying their true identity, whether it be sexual orientation or gender identity.
Living in a heteronormative society, it is hard to be self-aware of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The hesitance to “come out” is usually because of the potential shame and discrimination one might face because of the social stigmas attached to heteronormative society. People from the LGBTQ community suffer bullying while they are in schools, verbal and sexual assaults at workplaces, or even among their own families.
Because of all these stigmas and living in a heteronormative society, LGBTQ individuals are at great risk for poor mental health. Major depression, anxiety disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), substance use and abuse, and suicidal ideation and attempt rates are all higher.
In addition to the effects of societal and systemic discrimination, the people from the LGBTQ community don’t always receive the mental health support they need. The LGBTQ population seeks psychotherapy for the same reasons as heterosexual people: stress, relationship difficulties, difficulty adjusting to social or work situations. The prime reason for their stress might be their sexual orientation or gender identity, but therapists and mental health professionals often tend to be part of the system that discriminates against the LGBTQ population.
Like members of any other minority group, LGBTQ community members also endure something called “minority stress.” Minority stress refers to “the way that individuals from underrepresented or stigmatized groups experience a number of stressors that directly relate to their minority identity.” This stress can show up in many forms, including internalized homophobia, internalized transphobia, experiences of discrimination because of one’s identity, and many more.
Therapists and mental health professionals must understand the nuances of this minority stress, educate themselves about the LGBTQ community, and be queer affirmative in their practices. Queer affirmative therapy is a therapeutic practice that takes a positive view of lesbian, gay, transgender, and queer people and their identities. This form of mental health therapy practice also ensures it addresses the effects of minority stress and homophobia, transphobia, and heteronormativity on LGBTQ individuals.
There is a dire need for not just therapists and mental health professionals, but therapists and mental health professionals who are queer affirmative in their practice. While legally, discrimination against people from the LGBTQ community has been decriminalized in India, the struggle is still real. The struggle to claim rights as well as to occupy deserving spaces is still a struggle. Whether it’s inclusive medical care or mental health care, a queer affirmative approach is crucial for the betterment of the queer community and society at large.
If you are looking for a queer affirmative therapist or counsellor, please read our notes on mental health professionals in India and how to reach out to one.