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How hiding your sexuality can impact your mental health

June 5, 2023

June is PRIDE month; a celebration that reminds us to be proud of who we are, no matter who we love or how we identify. PRIDE is a marker of how far LGBT+ rights have come, however it’s also a chance for us to recognise the issues that these groups still face and raise awareness so we can tackle them.

Sadly, lots of people feel as though they have to hide their sexuality because they’re worried about being judged or even harmed. 64% of LGBT+ people have been victims of anti-LGBT+ violence or abuse and only 46% of lesbian, gay and bi people feel as though they can be open about their sexual orientation to everyone in their family.

Whether someone has experienced homophobia or biphobia first-hand or through others, this can cause them to shy away from sharing their orientation. They may even internalise these beliefs and develop negative feelings towards their own sexuality. When we feel as though we have to repress or hide who we are, this can take its toll on our mental health.

The impact on mental health

Research shows that LGBT+ people are 1.5 times more likely to develop depression and anxiety disorders, compared with the rest of the population. The reasons for this are complicated, but they may be to do with a fear of rejection and social isolation or as a result of experiencing stigma and prejudice.

An issue that may impact people who are hiding their sexuality specifically is low self-esteem. Concealing parts of your identity can prevent you from fully expressing and embracing yourself. You may feel as though you’re constantly putting on an act for other people and live in fear of being ‘found out’ which can be exhausting and stressful. This could mean that you lose sight of who you are and prevent you from living authentically.

Supporting your mental health

1. Talk to someone you trust

It might be difficult to talk about how you’re feeling, but sharing your experience with someone who knows about your sexuality can help you to work through your emotions. If there isn’t someone in your life that you can talk to, you can call the LGBT+ helpline, Switchboard, on 0800 0119 100.

2. Create or find a safe space

When going through a challenging time, it can help to surround ourselves with people who have been through something similar and share our experiences. If you don’t know any other LGBT+ people, you could look into regional LGBT+ support groups via Consortium’s website.

3. Set boundaries

If there are people in your life who aren’t accepting of LGBT+ people, give yourself permission to limit your contact with them or step away when they make you feel uncomfortable or disrespected. This can be really hard if it’s the people closest to you, however you have to put your own mental health first and absorbing other people’s negativity can take its toll.

Anxiety around ‘coming out’

For many people, the process of coming out can be emotionally challenging. Even if you have supportive family and friends, it’s not unusual to feel nervous and apprehensive about sharing your sexuality. You may worry about how people will react and wonder whether it will change your relationships.

Anxiety is a natural response to a stressful situation and it can manifest itself both physically and emotionally. When planning to come out to someone, you might find that your heart races, legs shake or your breathing becomes rapid. Mentally, you can get stuck in a cycle of overthinking the situation and agonising over what might happen.

It's important to remember that there is no right or wrong sexuality and everyone should be respected and accepted, regardless of how they identify.

Tips for sharing your sexuality with others

  • Think how you think the conversation might go with the different people you want to tell.
  • If you’re unsure about how someone will react, you could broach the topic of sexuality with them first to gauge their views.
  • Decide how you would feel most comfortable telling people - a phone call, social media post or in-person?
  • Have an exit plan in place in case you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Just so you know, if you don't want to share your sexuality with others then you don’t have to. It’s a choice that’s completely up to you. However, opening up to even one person who you trust can benefit your mental health and help you to feel less alone.

Mental health support and resources for LGBT+ people

LGBT Foundation: https://lgbt.foundation

Pink Therapy: https://pinktherapy.com

Stonewall: https://www.stonewall.org.uk

Switchboard LGBT+ helpline: 0800 0119 100

ieso offers online Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) which can help with general anxiety, stress management and relaxation. We treat people from many different backgrounds, cultures and sexualities. Find out more on our website.

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This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.
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