The pandemic brought a mainstream appreciation of the importance of mental health support – for your community, for yourself, for your family and loved ones. As LGBTIAQ+ persons, some of us were already aware of the toll of isolation upon our spiritual and mental health. Bigotry, hatred, fear and prejudice operate against us in many spheres, sometimes in our own families. The pressure of keeping silent about our sexual and romantic identities – sometimes having to lie to keep that secret – is also a burden, a strain. Depression, anxiety, loneliness – and all these can be compounded by career, health and other stressors, none of which are avoidable.
With the lockdown, things got worse. Some of us were isolated from our loved ones and support – others had to live with blood families who did not accept our sexualities. In the worst cases, some of us were trapped in abusive situations with no real escape, for months.
The first thing to know before you look for a therapist or counsellor or psychiatrist is that *it is okay to need help*. Human beings evolved in communities that prioritised community interdependence and socialising, but we now live in complicated ecosystems where support is not always on hand, and sometimes where we are surrounded by love but still need more dedicated, knowledgeable help.
We would not look down on someone with a fractured leg who needed crutches to get around – we should not look down on people, on ourselves, who need metaphorical crutches for our mental health either. In essence, these are both the same thing. You need support and care – you have the right to get it, and be treated with respect for it.
The Indian medical association has changed a great deal over the past two decades. Indian psychiatry, therapy and counselling are no longer taught that queerness – any form of queerness – is in and of itself a diagnosable disorder in need of immediate treatment. That is to say, you are not mentally ill because you’re queer. You’re not depressed because you’re queer. Your stressors are social, physical, emotional – they are not caused by your gender or orientation alone.
There is nothing wrong with needing care.
That said, it is hard to find good mental health support. To begin with, you need to figure out how severe your need is. Is this a mood disorder, a lack of clarity? You might not need medication, but rather counselling. Think of a counsellor as someone who can help you gain clarity and support you as you gather the resources for your own emotional and spiritual agency. Counsellors are usually skilled in talk therapy or play therapy. They might or might not have masters and Ph.Ds in psychology. For a large number of people who need support, this is a good thing. You need support for wellness, not treatment for a disorder.
A clinical psychologist might be what you need if you have more severe issues and perhaps something that requires diagnosis and treatment, and longer-term support. Their training is based on a more in-depth theoretical and scientific framework. If you are diagnosed as *clinically* depressed, anxious, have bipolar or borderline personality disorder, a clinical psychologist might be better equipped to find you.
A *psychiatrist* is a doctor, someone who has a medical license – these professionals can prescribe medication (for depression, anxiety, etc, but also for disorders such as schizophrenia). Perhaps you are so severely unhappy you need a psychiatrist – perhaps you are not. A psychiatrist might also do clinical talk therapy with you, or refer you to a counsellor or clinical psychologist so you received rounded treatments to help you in more than one way.
You might now know which of these is best for you – my personal recommendation is to find a counsellor or a clinical psychologist – they will know if they need to refer you to someone with different qualifications.
All that is well and good, but how do you *find* one?
If you have good relations with a queer support group, the best bet is to ask them. There is a very good chance they have already had this question and probably have a list of professionals you can contact, with different budget scales, for your reference. (They might also offer professional counselling or even peer counselling themselves – there’s no harm in asking.) A professional who is vouched for by another queer person has already passed some basic tests – you know they are not prejudiced against the queer community, and they have helped at least one person.
Another option is the iCall Crowdsourced List of Mental Health Professionals We Can Trust. This is a crowdsourced list, divided by city, listing age, gender, fees, specialisations, and even queer-friendliness of mental health professionals, curated by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. This is a very comprehensive list, and I know that the Bengaluru page (I live in Bengaluru) is full of people I would recommend or have had recommended to me when I needed help.
There are a host of online counselling services now, many offering a sliding scale – a simple google search might find you someone to talk to and be supported by.
You have the right to receive care with dignity, to look for care with dignity, and to leave the care of someone who does not treat you with dignity. If you need mental health support, I hope you find it, and I wish you well.