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More to be done

One in three adolescent LGBTI has attempted suicide, three times the average

The situation is stark according to the report issued in late March. 56% of LGBTI people aged 14 to 18 year old have self-harmed, 70% have had suicidal thoughts and one in three has attempted suicide. Compared to the ‘My World National Youth Mental Health Study’, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and/or intersex (LGBTI) young people reported twice the level of self-harm; three times the level of attempted suicide; and four times the level of severe or extremely severe stress, anxiety and depression. Being LGBTI does not accounts for this situation. It is caused by the unnecessary and preventable stresses that LGBTI children and teenagers still encounter as they grow up.

This situation was revealed in The ‘LGBTIreland’ Report – the biggest ever survey – launched by former President Mary McAleese. She made the telling point that things will not improve by chance, only through change.

It is important for LGBTI young people and their families to know they are not alone. There are LGBTI youth and community services across the country. Schools, mental-health services and other support agencies are being increasingly proactive about creating safe and supportive environments for the LGBTI people in their care. The report highlights, however, the urgent need to accelerate this work.

Last May Ireland changed what it means to grow up LGBTI: first with a resounding ‘Yes’ in the marriage equality referendum and then with the Gender Recognition Act. The research did find that the majority of LGBTI people aged 26 and over are doing well. They report good self-esteem and are proud of their LGBTI identity.

However, these positive findings are not shared across all age groups. LGBTI people still face considerable barriers to good mental health, including bullying at school, fear of rejection, discrimination, harassment and violence, and negative attitudes and stereotypes. We still have much work to do to achieve the equal and inclusive society so many voted for.

The LGBT Ireland Report was Ireland’s largest ever study of the mental health and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. The study was funded by the National Office for Suicide Prevention and commissioned by BeLong To and GLEN.

The study provides vital evidence that must now drive change. However, the findings were of little surprise to us here in BeLonG To Youth Services. We see these high levels of mental health challenges amongst the hundreds of young people we are supporting every week in our frontline services in Dublin and throughout our national network of youth services. There has been a doubling in the numbers of young people in crisis who have come to our services in recent time.

Mary McAleese at the launch of the LGBTIreland report
Mary McAleese at the launch of the LGBTIreland report

Homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, communities and even homes, is a major cause of these harrowing findings. The study found that 67% of those surveyed had witnessed anti-LGBT bullying and 50% had experienced it. It found that the majority of second-level schools do not provide safe and inclusive environments for LGBTI students. However, it did find that a growing number of teachers and principals are making an effort to change this.

25% of post-primary schools took part in BeLonG To’s ‘Stand Up!’ awareness campaign in 2015. This campaign, supported by the Department of Education, aims to end homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools by increasing awareness, friendship and support for LGBT students from other students. Clearly there is a long way to go from a base of 25% but it does represent an encouraging start. The study points to the urgency of building on this work.

A 2014 evaluation of the Stand Up! campaign found that LGBT students, attending schools that participated in the campaign, reported a greater sense of empowerment and ownership of their education, and that the school was a more inclusive and accepting place after the campaign. They highlighted that they were more confident that the staff in the schools would be receptive to their needs and that they were more willing to approach a member of staff, and in particular the Social, Personal and Health Education teacher or Guidance Counsellor.

BeLonG To has declared May 22nd as #BeLonGToTheFuture day to raise funds to ensure LGBT young people have access to youth support services such as peer support, resilience programmes and suicide/self-harm prevention programmes and to ensure more schools create environments that are fully inclusive, safe and supportive for LGBTI young people. Everyone has a part to play in creating this new culture, a culture that can save young lives. We achieved so much last May but there is still a job to be finished so that all LGBTI people are equal, safe, included and valued across Irish society.

Moninne Griffith is Executive Director of BeLonG To

By Moninne Griffith