I hope you are well. I’m now back at work following my holiday, although I am only back for a couple of weeks before I go back on leave. I’m finally taking the holidays that were delayed by the pandemic. My next destination is Palma Nova in Majorca. I’m expecting it to be a slightly odd experience – I am staying at the same hotel I stayed at aged 13 – that was my first ever overseas trip on an aeroplane.
I often talk about mental health and why we should prioritise it, it is a critical element of our wellbeing. One area that is sometimes overlooked is the link between equality, diversity and inclusion issues and our wellbeing. Looking specifically at inclusion, being free and able to be your whole self is critical to our wellbeing. In the workplace, for example, if as individuals we can be our whole selves, we can start to build a culture of acceptance. Not only is that good for us collectively, its also great for the individual to not have to hide parts of themselves away.
Some people still feel shame or fear when it comes to parts of their identity. This can have a significant impact on their mental health and wellbeing.
“June is Pride month – a time to honour the LGBTQ+ community, to lift their voices, celebrate their cultures, and recognize the progress and remaining work in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Inspired by the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, a tipping point in the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States, Pride is part celebration and part political activism. While a lot has changed in the 53 years since the Stonewall Uprising, the LGBTQ+ community still faces discrimination interpersonally and systemically.
Inequity harms mental health. While being LGBTQ+ is NOT a mental health condition or concern, LGBTQ+ individuals experience mental health struggles at higher rates than their straight and cisgender peers. Mental health challenges among the LGBTQ+ community are primarily due to individuals facing stigma, discrimination, and bias in many forms.”
Pride month and linked events can often still be controversial within the UK, and in the wider world there are many places where it is illegal to be LGBTQ+, and some punishments include the death penalty. Pride month is not just about public events and celebrations, it’s the ongoing battle for equality for all within this minority. In the UK, we are lucky that sexual orientation is a protected characteristic in law under the Equality Act. That being said, there is still a lot of discrimination despite legal protections.
From a mental health perspective, an individual that is either forced to hide away this part of their identity or fears being open about it can often suffer higher levels of mental ill health than their straight or cis-gendered counterparts. I want to reiterate, being LGBTQ+ is not a mental health condition, but its important that we are open that the experiences of people in this minority are more likely to have a mental ill health condition because of their experiences.
This is something I have experienced for myself. Aged 17, I knew I identified as gay, but back in 2002, coming out at a high school in Rotherham was quite a dangerous thing to do. One member of my year group did, but ultimately the bullying and harassment led him to leave the sixth form for another institution where he could return to being anonymous. I did come out to just two people at that point, my Mum and my “best” friend. At the time it was one of the scariest things I’d had to do. My Mum was absolutely brilliant, was not phased by this at all. My “best” friend, who to this point had been trustworthy claimed to be fine with it. I did not receive abuse from her directly, but I knew she could not be trusted.
The secret got out quickly, the abuse from people in my year group began, including a number of physical attacks. I still have a scar on my forehead from being beaten up.
At the time, this destroyed any confidence I had, and my sense of self worth was low. I had learned a hard way that you must be careful who you trust. Let’s just say, my two years in sixth form were pure hell. I suffered with depression and later anxiety as a result.
Through university, I pretended to be straight – I tried to fit in, and I felt safe. Finally, when I entered the civil service workplace did, I find it was ok to be my whole self. I have still encountered harassment and discrimination on being openly gay, even with my current employer, however I have had the support and mechanisms in place to challenge this.
Today, I do not fear to be my whole self, at work or in my private life. I am gay, and I also have a hidden disability. This does not define me, its not the only part of me. We are all unique and have many different elements that make up who we are as an individual. I am many things; these two elements are just a part of me. I do not feel shame, I do not hate myself and I know my own self-worth.
I am James, I am authentically James. Nothing more, nothing less.
I am my whole self, and I am free.