The latest mental health statistics from LGBT+ charity Stonewall show some bleak numbers about the queer community, and incidence of mental health issues. With about 55% of queer men experiencing mild to severe depression and anxiety, and 79% of queer women reporting the same, it’s important to shine a light on the relationship between struggling with mental health and being LGBT+.
The numbers for people of colour are worse: about 89% of queer people of colour report mental health issues. In South Asian communities, the topic of mental health difficulties is often more stigmatised than it is elsewhere, especially for those who come from religious backgrounds.
This only makes it more likely for LGBT+ people from South Asian backgrounds to be struggling with bad mental health. So, as an anxious mess and chronic depressive, I’ve got tips for my fellow Desi peeps struggling with their mental health.
In recent years, ‘self-care’ has become a bit of a buzzword. Search it on Instagram, and you’ll find hundreds of posts about bath bombs and shopping sprees, fancy dinners and expensive treats. But self-care isn’t about spending money to make you feel good.
Self-care is in the small actions you take every day to maintain or protect your mental health. It can be about hygiene – if you’re having issues with low mood, small tasks like making sure you open your curtains, brush your teeth and take a shower can make a difference.
Self-care can also mean avoiding situations or people who aren’t good for your mental health. If that means avoiding bigoted or homophobic family members, so be it. If it means not putting yourself in situations that will upset you, then do that. Take small steps to better mental health – self-care is about establishing routines and practices that allow you to thrive mentally and stay that way.
Get some exercise
For a lot of people struggling with mental health issues, it’s a cliché response to encourage them to get some exercise. The truth is, no mental health issue will be solved by putting on a pair of running trainers or going to the gym.
But it’s impossible to deny that both mental and physical health are linked. If you’re doing well physically, it has a small, but important, knock-on effect on your mental wellbeing. Getting some exercise can help you regulate your sleep pattern, improve your appetite, and most importantly – it gets you out and about.
Exercise doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym 3+ times a week. It doesn’t mean running 5k first thing in the morning, or swimming countless laps after work. It can be as simple as going for a walk to the shops, or a bike ride with friends on the weekend. Do what you can.
Not to sound like your mum here, but it is important to eat properly. It’s important routine-wise, but also because again, what you eat can affect your mental health. Appetite is often affected by adverse mental health, and so it’s essential that you think about your relationship with food.
There’s no magic food for helping battle depression, or anxiety or psychosis, or any mental health issue, but something as simple as having breakfast every day, or not just subsisting off caffeine, can make a huge change to physical and mental wellbeing. Cooking something for yourself, even if it’s just some cheese on toast and a cup of tea, can be an essential part of self-care.
Of course, some people have mental health conditions that centre on their relationship with food, and to those people, I say – baby steps. It’s down to your doctor, nutritionist or therapist (if you have them) to decide what steps you’ll be taking to help with disordered eating, but it’s important for you to realise that food can be a way of looking after yourself.
Avoid burnout and recharge your batteries
People with mental health issues (especially those with mood disorders) are far more likely to experience burnout – the point at which you reach physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.
Burnout can be avoided by taking time to relax – it’s another form of self-care. Taking a step back from the outside world for short periods can be helpful and spending an evening bingeing Queer Eye on Netflix is absolutely good for your wellbeing, trust me.
Social media is a tool – use it!
Sometimes it can feel like you’re alone as an LGBT+ South Asian person, and the internet is invaluable in being able to reach out to people who are understanding of what you’re going through and the various issues that might be affecting your mental health.
Using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram (and even Tumblr) can be a way of having conversations about mental health. Alternatively, you can use it for just letting people know that you’re not doing great, without having to have the same conversation over and over. Social media can really be whatever you need it to be.
Yoga or meditation is good for you
It sounds cheesy as all hell, but often Yoga, or other meditative practices help with improving wellbeing, both physical and mental. If you’re taking time to put aside the stresses of the everyday, and focusing on yourself, it can have a really positive effect on your state of mind.
Seek professional help
It’s often the hardest thing to do, but if bad mental health is starting to affect your everyday life, it’s always best to get an appointment with your GP and talk about your symptoms.
Whether you’re feeling low, struggling with lack of sleep or appetite – whatever you’re experiencing, you can confide in a doctor about it, and get the ball rolling on getting some help, and maybe a diagnosis.
Opening up to a healthcare professional can lead to talking therapies or prescriptions for medication, both of which can be amazing tools for getting you back to good mental health.
Getting academic support or support at work
If you’re in a position to do so, disclosing issues with mental health to your school, college, university, or workplace can be really great for getting you some more support. There are usually pastoral tutors, or people in HR who you can sit down with and chat to about what you need.
Whether this is more time to get tasks done, access to counselling, or just having a door to knock on when you’re not at your best, it’s important to make sure you can get the help and considerations you need.
Find yourself a supportive circle of friends and family
It’s really difficult to open up to people about mental health at first, but once you bite the bullet, you’ll realise that a lot of the people around you have mental health issues, and talking about it to people who love you will make you feel miles better.
Having a strong support circle around you is invaluable. If you can’t talk to your family, your friends can be great at helping you to monitor your mood and look after yourself.
Support elsewhere – mental health help
Sometimes, it’s not possible to talk to friends and family – maybe you’re not ready to, maybe you feel like they won’t understand. It’s OK – there are other options out there for getting some support.
Most LGBT+ charities and support networks have events and sessions for people who struggle with mental health, and it’s well worth checking out the local support available to you from organisations that cater for the needs of LGBT+ people.