Lesbian and Bisexual Ilga reportWomen’s Health: Common Concerns,Local Issues
Mental Health 40 / 41Mental HealthMany people still believe that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are “mentally ill”; we should notforget that homosexuality was considered a mental disorder until 1973 by the American Psy-chiatric association and until 1990 by the World Health Organization. We are all raised andlive in a homophobic and heterosexist world. Some of us still have to cope with internalisedlesbophobia and bi-phobia. In some cases, we cannot rely on the support of family and havebroken with the culture and lifestyle of origin. Added to that, lesbians’ social life and opportu-nities to meet others are often linked to clubs and nightlife where alcohol, smoking and drugsare present. All those factors have a detrimental effect on wellbeing and health and are anadditional source of stress that can contribute to depression and mental health problems.“I think the road to good health for many les- began formally in 1999 after a comprehensivebians is a bit slippery, and it can be easy to community consultation about ACON’s futurefall off the path”. M. Mahamati, Acon, Aus- directions and a more planned approach to les-tralia. bian health matters was put in place as part of a broadening of the organization’s focus towardsTHE SLIPPERY NATURE LGBT health. ACON now views itself as a healthOF LESBIAN HEALTH promotion agency, serving the LGBT commu-WHAT IS SO DIFFERENT ABOUT nity with a particular emphasis on HIV/AIDS.LESBIAN HEALTH? ACON employs one full time lesbian health worker in Sydney and part time workers in ourAcon, an Australian NGO working on lesbian four regional offices. So far it has proven morehealth has explored how lesbophobia and as- difficult for ACON to attract funding for lesbiansumption of heterosexuality are barriers for projects than originally envisaged. Therefore,lesbians seeking optimal health. “Heterosexism much of this work is funded by self-generatedand homophobia can erode our mental and emo- sources. Currently ACON is unable to providetional wellbeing” says M. Mahamati, Acon’s Se- the same range of services and resources fornior Lesbian Health Project worker. lesbian health as for gay men, due to significant funding generated from HIV/AIDS grants. WhileACON is an LGBT organization with a cen- some of our work in lesbian health is driventral focus on HIV/AIDS. So, why are you by what funding is available, research informslaunching campaigns targeted at lesbians or, specific needs are to be addressed. The highmore broadly, women dating women, about incidence of breast cancer in women (1 in 7)health issues ranging from breast cancer to and the higher risk factors for many lesbiansmental health? (not having children, not having breastfed, high alcohol consumption, high smoking rate) makeACON began as a gay community response our risk factor for developing breast cancer,to the HIV/AIDS epidemic twenty years ago, to some suggest, as high as 1 in 4. The rates ofboth care for people living with HIV/AIDS and domestic violence in lesbian relationships havepromote safe sex to prevent further transmis- shaped the formation of ACON’s Anti-Violencesion of the virus. Many lesbians worked in paid project, for which we are able to obtain fun-or voluntary capacity in this field as nurses and ding from the Attorney General’s department.care providers and other support focused roles. Heterosexism and homophobia can erode ourSome lesbians were attracted to this work wi- mental and emotional wellbeing, and groupsthin the gay community; and when opportuni- which decrease social isolation and fosterties arose, usually in conjunction with a range of friendships and networks can assist our copingcommunity development programmes, lesbian mechanisms. At different times in the life ofhealth issues were also addressed. However, the Lesbian Health project issues such as saferthis was in an ad hoc manner. It was usually sex and sexual health have taken priority. Someunfunded work and was heavily reliant on vo- directions for the project have come about bylunteer time and the goodwill of related servi- particular skills and interests of the projectces and agencies. The Lesbian Health project workers of the time.
Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s Health: Ilga reportCommon Concerns, Local IssuesYou published a brochure called “The slip- far-reaching negative health consequencespery nature of lesbian health”. What do you and that smoking occurs at much higher ratesfind so slippery? among lesbians than the general community.Well, I think the road to good health for many ACON has run smoking cessation courses tolesbians is a bit slippery, and it can be easy address this issue.to fall off the path. As a group our community The same brochure has a separate chapterseems to have less frequent appointments with on emotional and mental health, and a gooddoctors or health care professionals, espe- part is dedicated to depression. Why wouldcially if we don’t have children, which may put lesbian or bisexual women be more subject tous in contact with the medical establishment depression than heterosexuals?more frequently. Many of us perceive or expe-rience a negative reaction when disclosing our I believe lesbian and bisexual women are moresexuality, or keep silent about this and resign subject to depression because we live in a ho-ourselves to sitting through questions about mophobic and heterosexist world where ourcontraception and other issues assuming he- lives are often discounted and diminished. Anterosexuality. For some these experiences are Australian 2005 Roy Morgan poll which inter-enough to deter anything other than emergen- viewed 24,718 Australians over 14 years of agecy medical treatments, and regular screenings showed that 43% of men and 27% of womenfor cervical cancer and mammograms can slip believed homosexuality to be immoral. Livingby the wayside. I think that the name, Slippery among such judgments can be very stressful.Nature, was a bit of a play with words by the Some lesbians may have been rejected by theircontributors who were alluding to those warm, family of origin in their coming out process,moist, slippery aspects of lesbian sex. may have experienced rejection from signifi- cant people in their lives when disclosing theirIn another brochure, “Opening the window sexuality and have not found significant others– A general guide to lesbian health”, you for support. Lesbian role models have notinclude alcohol, smoking, drugs and even been easy to find, and they have not inheritedgambling. Don’t you think these are social a road map of “how to be lesbian”. Many haverather than health issues? not resolved issues of internalized homopho-In inner city Sydney, the lesbian scene and op- bia and have not easily accepted their sexualityportunities to meet others most often involves as an integral, vibrant, OK part of themselves.clubs and pubs where alcohol, smoking and If they have been brought up in a culture whichdrugs are prevalent. Many lesbians conduct is harsh and condemning about sexuality, ittheir whole social life in this atmosphere; and is difficult to let those messages not have aour higher use of alcohol, smoking and drugs negative impact. The old saying of Jesuit’s…has a detrimental effect on health. For many “give me a child until he/she is 7” demonstra-of us our way of interacting socially has a direct tes the idea that beliefs held in early years areimpact on your health. ACON tries to provide difficult to dislodge. Many lesbians have lostalternative meeting opportunities away from a great deal when coming to terms with theirthe scene. While I don’t know of any research sexuality: family, friends, church, culture and awhich cites gambling as a larger problem in lifestyle or dream they had of their future.the lesbian community more than the general Lesbian role models have not been easy tocommunity, it could be that when Opening the find, and they have not inherited a roadWindow was written, it was thought that our map of “how to be lesbian”potential for addiction might also transfer togambling, especially as so many of the pubshave rows of machines installed just waitingfor a taker. ACON takes a holistic view of healthwherever possible; and a focus on drug and al-cohol use within the LGBT community, parti-cularly in terms of harm reduction, has beena long-standing priority for the organization.Furthermore, it’s no secret that smoking has
Mental Health 42 / 43In all your brochures and campaigns you away and live openly as a lesbian. They not onlypicture women from various ethnic origins. face the possible loss of family and friends, butWhat are the specific mental health concerns their very way of being. Racism is sometimesfor those lesbian and bisexual women with a experienced when venturing into the lesbianminority ethnic background? community; and rosy dreams of finding a pla-For many lesbians from a minority ethnic bac- ce of acceptance, comfort and support can bekground the issue of culture plays a huge role. shattered. ACON desires to portray women ofIn communities where lesbians are condem- different racial backgrounds enjoying mutuallyned, they face a choice of keeping their sexua- satisfying relationships, both sexual and nonlity secret and always needing to be on guard sexual.for fear of discovery or losing meaningful and www.acon.org.auimportant aspects of their lives if they moveA SURVEY BY ILGA-EUROPESUICIDAL THOUGHTS AND SUICIDE AMONG LGBT POPULATION IN HUNGARYMental healh is one of the most vulnerable issues for the LGBT people. Reporting on stress,88.4% of the respondents reported being frequently stressed, 79.3% anxious, and 46.2% thinkthat they are depressed. Of those who answered these questions, 32.9% are of the view thattheir stress, anxiety or depression is related to their sexual orientation. Only 28.5% of thesehave turned to a mental health service provider for help, including the help-lines operated byNGOs. 71.5% have never sought help. This can be understood in part by a lack of trust in thedoctor’s confidentiality, since it is necessary to come out to the doctor/psychologist if someo-ne is seeking treatment for related mental problems. When asked within same Hungariansurvey about suicidal thoughts, 56.2% of the respondents report having such thoughts and18.3% have attempted suicide. Among those who have attempted suicide, 65% viewed it asrelated to sexual orientation and gender identity. Abuse, harassment and violence are factorswhich can have an impact on health in general and on mental health in particular. Only 33.8%or Hungarian respondents report not experiencing any of our listed forms of abuse. We seealso that well over one half (59.2%) of responses were for name calling as a form of abuse.21.1% of the responses related to the threat of physical violence. Yes No No ResponseHave you ever had suicidal thoughts? 56.2% 43.8% 0%If yes, have you ever attempted suicide? 18.3% 81.7% 0%If yes, do you feel this was in anywaydue to your own or other people’sfeelings in relation to your sexualorientation or gender identity? 65% 35% 0% From ILGA-Europe LGBT health survey. If you would like to read the full report, please visit ILGA-Europe’s web-site at: www.ilga-europe.org.
Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s Health: Ilga reportCommon Concerns, Local IssuesTOBACCO USEWhile there has been no large scale study on tobacco use among the LGBT community, thereare a number of studies which point to a higher prevalence than in the heterosexual popula-tion. A review of the literature on the impact of homophobia in Canada (1), posited that in theLGBT community there were twice the number of deaths due to smoking than in the hetero-sexual community. According the American Magazine CLASH, the lesbian and gay communityhas become the third community for the tobacco industry to target, after African Americansand women.(1)Bank, C. The Cost of Homophobia: Literature Review of the Cost of Homophobia in Canada,Canada 2003 From ILGA-Europe LGBT health survey. If you would like to read the full report, please visit ILGA-Europe’s web-site at: www.ilga-europe.org.
Mental Health 44 / 45ACON ASSOCIATION NEXUS RESEARCHwww.acon.org.au STOP SUICIDE http://ireland.iol.ie/nexus/“The slippery nature of lesbian www.stopsuicide.ch/5/homo- A non profit research co-operativeHealth – What is so different about sexualite based in Dublin, Ireland, Nexus haslesbian health?”. This brochure de- This Swiss organization is concer- developed extensive expertise in atails the impact of invisibility and it ned by the high level of attempted number of areas, including suppor-describes some general experien- suicides among young people who ting local and community develop-ces of health as lesbians. It inclu- say they are lesbians or gay. Its ment, empowerment, exclusion anddes contacts for care and support of website provides useful information social issues, information societylesbians in Australia. about this issue. and communications, programme and project evaluation. It has com-“Opening The Window – A guide pleted work in social issues relatingto Lesbian Health” provides some to various groups in Ireland thatgood tips to lesbian and bisexual GRIFFIN CENTRE are excluded in different ways fromwomen for maintaining health and www.griffin-centre.org main opportunities and benefits ofwellbeing. It details the most com- The Griffin Centre is a non-profit or- development. These have includedmon risks and diseases, and gives ganization providing a range of res- among others, the lesbian and gayan ample space to issues related ponsive community mental health community and women’s groups into mental health such as alcohol, services to youth and adults with disadvantaged areas.smoking, other drugs abuse, gam- complex needs.bling, how to deal with relationships “Mental Health, Lesbians and Gaywhen breaking with partners or lo- The Youth Arts Project (YAP!) is a Men – Developing Strategies tovers. It describes what emotional weekly arts-based sexual health Counter the Impact of Social Exclu-health is and how important it is to drop in for queer youth under 25. sion and Stigmatisation” - By Brianbe able to talk to someone. It also The group recently created a pos- Dillion and Eoin Collins, Nexus Re-gives advice on ways to plan ahead ter, magazine and outdoor mural search Co-operative, Dublinwhen thinking about your health related to sexual health. This report solely concentrates onand wellbeing and what you might the experience of lesbians and gaylike to have in place in the case of men with regard to mental health inserious illness or death. Ireland. Its aim is to support deve- lopment at local and national level to address the mental health needs to the lesbian and gay communityALCOHOL ADVISORY and increase the understanding ofCOUNCIL OF NEW ZEA- the key issues with regard to sexualLAND (ALAC) orientation and mental health.www.alac.org.nzIt was established in 1976 followinga report by the Royal Commissionof Inquiry into the Sale of Liquor.The Commission recommendedestablishing a permanent councilwhose aim was to encourage res-ponsible use and minimise misuseof alcohol. The ALAC project wasan attempt at targeting the lesbiancommunity about drug and alcoholabuse. Posters and postcards weredistributed throughout the countryin lesbian and gay centres as well aswomen’s health centres. Such dis-tributions contributed to the generaldiscussion about drug and alcoholabuse in the community as well asinformed some health care workersto the fact that some of their clientswould be lesbian or gay.