You might remember that a few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about what I learned at a panel discussion I attended, organized by the This Is Who I Am Project. The project aims to raise awareness of the experiences of people in the LBGTQ community related to mental health and mental illness. I was able to get in touch with the organizer and send her some questions. I was very happy with her responses and am delighted to share them with you. They are eye-opening!
1) Why did you start the “This Is Who I Am Project?” What do you hope to achieve?
I started this project from a Self-Expression and Leadership program through Landmark Education. I remember my coach saying to me “You are an impact to people and you are a huge impact to community.” From that I took on creating something that was close to my heart and that I was passionate about – a project for the LGBTQ community and creating awareness surrounding mental health and wellness. I struggled with depression and for the longest time I was so afraid of people finding out. I know that within the LGBTQ community, there are so many people affected by mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Whether it be the “coming out process”, gender identity, relationships, bullying, family situations, work and school inclusion, mental health issues are widespread and are at a dangerous level that affects LGBTQ people emotionally and physically. The problem is nobody wants to talk about it – they are ashamed to admit it or they may feel weak. By suppressing themselves and not reaching out for help, they resort to much more dangerous ways to cope like substance abuse.
I hope to make a change in our community and really cause a shift in thinking; I want to let people know that that is no harm and no shame in talking about mental health issues because we all go through it. I want to inspire people to start talking about it so we can all support each other.
2) Why are people in the LGBTQ community at higher risk of mental health issues?
As a marginalized group LGBTQ people still experience discrimination and stigma. This discrimination can have a negative effect throughout life. Through the “coming out process”, many LGBTQ people sometimes suppress who they really are, hide their orientation and change their behaviour or appearance for fear of homophobia, bullying or violence. When you tack on unsupportive family situations, culture or religion, this has a severe negative impact on mental health.
3) What have been your own experiences been with mental health issues?
I struggled with depression on and off throughout my life, from my parents’ divorce when I was a teenager, to my own coming out process, my relationship woes and the constant need to be a high achiever. It presented itself in all sorts of different manners. For a time, I didn’t realize I was suffering from depression. I just thought that I had a short temper, was feeling sad and unmotivated. I was feeling a lot of guilt, and shame, questioning my self-worth, never feeling good enough and that was enough to put me into a tailspin of negative thoughts upon negative thoughts. At my lowest point, no amount of positive reinforcement was enough to make me believe that the negative thoughts in my mind were not real. Thinking about the future and the unknown terrified me. With professional help and relying on my friends and family, I developed a support system to reach out for help. That was the only way I was able to get through it. My friends and family are my world.
4) Why is it important that people share their stories with mental health publicly?
It is important that people share their stories so they can get the proper help they need. Mental health is a silent illness that affects so many of us emotionally and physically in a very negative way. Substance abuse, homelessness and suicide are on the rise. People are ashamed to talk about what’s really going on in their lives. I want people to know that they don’t have to do this alone; there is support and there is help. I want to inspire people to start the conversation about mental health, reach out to people around them and ask if they are okay – they may save a life.
5) What do you think you can do improve your mental health or how can people do this in a similar situation? (whether this is a societal change, a personal change, an act of self-care, etc.) How can people achieve wellness
- For myself, I know that having a strong support system helped me tremendously to improve mental health. I had a buddy system where I could reach out to selected friends at all times day or night when I’m not feeling so good. They knew instantly how to respond when I called or sent them a text.
- Seeking professional help and counselling and getting the proper diagnoses so you know how to treat your mental health goes a long way.
- Sharing with people who have experienced similar situations allow people to support each other.
- Do research and seek out resources. There are resources out there that provide all sorts of help. For resources, take a look at this attached list of resources: lgbtq-youth-resources.
- Take time out for yourself and have some compassion for yourself. Give yourself a break and don’t be so hard on yourself. Do things you truly enjoy that make you feel good.
6) Why did you call the project “This Is Who I Am” project?
I want to take a stand for courage, love and acceptance. I want to lend my voice for those who are scared, for those who are suffering and for those who cannot self-express. I am proud and want to take a stand for who I am as a person, who I am in terms of my sexual orientation, who I am is a person that has dealt with mental health issues, have suffered and may continue to struggle with mental health. To say it’s okay to talk about it. It’s okay that we are not okay sometimes. To represent all that I am and all that I’m not. Be proud because This Is Who I Am.