People who struggle with their mental health because of social stigmas around their sexuality or gender identity are being urged to seek support during Pride Month.
Each June, Pride Month celebrates the contributions and lives of LGBTQI+ people but also aims to raise awareness of the challenges they face, such as discrimination, social isolation and homophobia.Such issues can sometimes lead to depression and low self-esteem. Steps2Wellbeing, a free NHS mental health service run by Dorset HealthCare, can provide tailored help and support.
Christopher ORouke, a psychological wellbeing practitioner and LGBT champion at Steps2Wellbeing, understands why people may be hesitant to ask for help. He told KeeP 106: “I’ve found it difficult to discuss my own identity, about how I fit in the world with relationships and dealing with stigma and stereotypes. I felt like I couldn’t express parts of who I wanted to be in public, especially at school and university. Counselling at Steps2Wellbeing is perfect for that sort of thing. If people don’t feel they can be open about it then they aren’t forced to.”
“It is a very compassionate service where everyone tries to be understanding and sensitive when asking questions. Patient choice is always a really big thing for us, and we always try to give as many options as possible.”
To make sure Steps2Wellbeing staff better understand the mental health needs of LGBTQI+ people, Christopher has delivered training courses to colleagues.
He said: “We looked at how experiences of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and aphobia intersect and affect mental health. We also highlighted issues inside the community such as body image, Grindr culture, and the feeling that having a much smaller dating pool can make finding love competitive and more difficult. Steps2Wellbeing doesn’t judge patients or say that they are making these things up ¬– we know these are real-life cultural issues. We can talk about open relationships, polyamory and HIV, and how we can support people and not stigmatise them.
“Being LGBTQI+ doesn’t cause mental health problems and it doesn’t mean that your sexuality is necessarily relevant if you are struggling. For many people their sexuality is irrelevant to their mental health, but for when it is important, we want to give it the consideration that it deserves. Our patients are at the heart of everything we do, and we can also signpost to other services to make sure you get personalised and tailored support. It’s always better just to get in touch.”
Steps2Wellbeing is available to residents across Dorset and in Southampton City, and offers a range of talking therapies, online courses and guided self-help. You can sign up for support quickly and confidentially using the online form at www.steps2wellbeing.co.uk