Mental health is a human right. This is elaborated under Article 12 of the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which recognizes that the highest attainable standard of health involves both physical and mental health.
However, even with this recognition that mental health is a human right and as such should be enjoyed by everyone various studies show that stigma, discrimination, and prejudice based on a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity and expression affect a person’s mental health and well-being.
Last June to July 2019, APCOM launched an online survey which attempted to look into the mental health and well-being of LGBTQI rights defenders. The online survey, even with its inherent limitations, aimed to contribute to existing data by gathering perceptions on mental health and well-being from people involved in the defense and promotion of LGBTQI rights. The survey also aimed for its results to contribute to shine a light on the the mental health and well-being of LGBTQI rights advocates and defenders.
Demographics of Survey Respondents:
A total of 108 respondents participated in the survey. Most of the respondents were from Pakistan (13 respondents) followed by respondents from Malaysia (11), Philippines (10), India (9) and respondents from Indonesia (8). Other respondents are from Australia, Cambodia, Thailand, Iran, Bangladesh, China, Singapore, Myanmar, Korea, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Bhutan, Fiji, Japan, Kiribati, Maldives, Papua New Guinea, and Turkey. There were also 4 respondents from countries outside Asia and the Pacific including UK, Colombia and New Zealand.
Most participants are gay (39.89%), followed by bisexuals (14.81%) and lesbians (12.04%). Eleven participants are heterosexual. Some of the respondents are pansexual, asexual, and some who do not subscribe to labels. In terms of gender identity, most participants identify as cis male (45.37%), while 16.67% identified as queer. Cis female participants consisted 15.74% of the respondents. Ten respondents (9.26%) are transmen while 4.63% are transwomen. Other respondents indicated that that they are non-binary, gender fluid and bi-gender. One survey respondent is intersex.
Almost all (91.67%) of the respondents indicated being aware about mental health and well-being issues facing LGBTQI rights defenders. Further, a high percentage of survey respondents indicated that their involvement in LGBTQI rights defense and promotion affect their mental health and well-being. Almost half (45.37%) indicated strong agreement, and 30.36% indicated moderate agreement to the statement: ‘I believe that my involvement as LGBTQI rights defender has effect/s on my mental health and well-being.’
The effects of involvement in LGBTQI rights defense on the mental health and well-being of defenders can be either positive of negative.
The positive effects identified by some survey respondents include: sense of personal empowerment and liberation; fulfillment and happiness; sense of satisfaction; confidence and strength. One respondent indicated involvement in LGBTQI rights gives the respondent ‘meaning to his/her life.’
Meanwhile, the negative effects included burnout and fatigue, frustration, empathy fatigue, stress, anxiety, depression, frustration, alcohol dependency, increased sensitivity for their and their families’ security, feelings of isolation, and sleeplessness. According to some respondents, the negative effects of their LGBTQI rights involvement on their mental health and well-being are related to stigma and discrimination, limited spaces for advocacy in some countries, exposure to anti LGBT sentiments and backlash resulting from work/involvement related to LGBTQI rights, hate speech, verbal abuse, bullying, and harassment.
Mental health issues and well-being are not being discussed enough. Most respondents registered either strong disagreement (35.51% or 38 respondents) or moderate disagreement (37.38% or 40 respondents) to the statement: Mental health and well-being of LGBTQI rights defenders/advocates are being discussed enough.
Of the respondents who have experienced accessing mental health and well-being services, sensitivity, affordability, availability and accessibility were identified as challenges they encountered when accessing mental health and well-being services. Specifically, respondents indicated non-LGBTQI sensitive and affirmative services, and the stigma attached to mental health. Some respondents indicated cost of services and their personal financial constraints as challenges in accessing mental health and well-being services.
In terms of strategies used by respondents to take care of their mental health and well-being, the top answers are speaking with supportive friends, speaking with colleagues, speaking with counsellors/therapists, and speaking with supportive family members.
Asked for suggestions on how to improve the mental health and well-being of LGBTQI rights defenders, top answers included initiating specific programs which aim to address mental health and well-being concerns of those involved in LGBTQI rights; self-care strategies; increasing discussions and raise awareness about mental health and well-being; LGBTQI sensitive services and making these services available; and putting in place protective policies for the LGBTQI community.
APCOM is convinced that there is a need to make available venues for safe, non-judgmental and non-stigmatizing discussions about mental health and well-being of LGBTQI rights defenders, and the LGBTQI community in general. These discussions will contribute to raising awareness about the issue and to de-stigmatization of mental health and well-being.
Further, we believe that repeal of laws which criminalizes being LGBTQI and enactment of laws which seek to protect equality regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and characteristics will contribute to a healthier LGBTQI communities.