LGBT charity London Friend launches new services in bid to improve mental health and wellbeing of LBT women

BY KATE MARTIN

Look at any research on mental health in our LGBT communities and it will tell you the same – we experience much higher rates of depression, anxiety, stress and other common mental health issues than society as a whole.

In fact, you don’t even need to look at the research. Just look around us and we’ll see plenty evidence of people struggling just to be themselves, as lesbian, bi and trans women, and dealing with the shit that can be thrown at us. 

Mental health was a major focus of the Government’s recent LGBT survey, the biggest survey of its kind with over 108,000 responses.

It found that 24% of respondents had accessed mental health services in the previous year. Women were considerably more likely to have done so (28%) than men (16%). 

Although most people said once they got support it had been helpful, 1 in 5 said it hadn’t been, and a further 1 in 5 were indifferent. 

Perhaps most telling is the data for overall life satisfaction.

This was measured on a simple 1 to 10 scale. Lesbian and gay people together scored almost a full point down (6.9) than society as a whole (7.7).

Break that down even further and women rated their life satisfaction worse than men.

Bi people, in general, placed themselves even lower (6.3), with trans women and non-binary people lower still (5.5). 

In a way it’s shocking to see, in 2019, such stark inequalities persist, but it’s not rocket science to work out some of the reasons.

Prejudice, discrimination and invisibility are all things we endure daily. We also drink more and more often, and use more drugs than women in general and fare worse off in a whole host of measures of health and wellbeing.

But there are more challenges even within our own communities.

When we do need to use support services, are they equipped to understand us? Even most of the LGBT services have more support available to men.

Historically, most of the funding that’s come into LGBT services has been for gay and bi men’s HIV prevention. Lesbian, bi and trans women have been the poor cousins – if we’ve even been considered in the family at all.

At London Friend we’ve recently had to fight hard to get even a small amount of funding for women’s work – even pots of money aimed directly at women rarely get to LBT women.

We’ve been lucky enough to get a small grant through the Tampon Tax Community Fund in London, but as this is aimed at organisations doing solely or predominantly women’s work (we had to spell out why LBT women miss out because there are so few services working only with them). 

We’re announcing this work in National Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Women’s Health Week, an annual initiative we deliver through the National LGB&T Partnership, a group of LGBT charities working to improve health and wellbeing.

The week aims to highlight issues affecting LBT women’s health, and assist those planning and delivering services to be more inclusive.

This year the theme is visibility. 

We hope our new services will improve the visibility of the support available to LBT women.

We’ll be aiming to improve wellbeing through new regular social activities; a therapy group; and later in the year the opportunity to improve self-confidence by learning – and performing – stand-up comedy.

We’re also being funded by the government to test new ways of making mental health support easier to access – through video counselling; crisis prevention work; and online peer support forums, in partnership with LGBT charities ELOP and HERO.

This is just a drop in the ocean though, and our pilots will initially only cover London, although we hope they’ll be able to be scaled up.

As part of the Action Plan following the LGBT survey the government is also appointing a National LGBT Health Adviser and panel.

We call on them to make tackling mental health a priority. 

For more visit londonfriend.org.uk

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