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‘We’re not animals’

LGBTQ+ community appeals for compassion from mental-health practitioners

Published:Saturday | November 6, 2021 | 12:08 AMAsha Wilks/Gleaner Writer

Several members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer community are lobbying for Jamaican mental-health practitioners to exercise greater compassion in a country much criticised for its widespread condemnation of sexual minorities....

Several members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer community are lobbying for Jamaican mental-health practitioners to exercise greater compassion in a country much criticised for its widespread condemnation of sexual minorities.

Alexander Clennon, a transgender male, said seeking mental-health care has been difficult. Public healthcare’s deficits of long wait times and a lack of compassionate customer care are even worse for members of the LGBTQ+ community, he said.

“We just don’t have the resources,” Clennon lamented at a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on Wednesday.

Glenroy Murray, interim executive director at Equality for All Foundation Jamaica, says widespread homophobia has caused increased apprehension within the LGBTQ+ community in accessing mental-health services.

A study published by psychologist Kai A.D. Morgan and Tiffany L. Palmer titled Audit of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Services and Needs for LGBTQ+ Persons in Jamaica found that LGBTQ+ youths are experiencing rising rates of mental-health issues such as anxiety, depression, and self-harm.

Mental-health concerns

The February 2021 study, which included 380 LGBTQ+ people, 220 of whom completed a survey about their mental-health concerns, found that 69 per cent were battling anxiety and depression, 40 per cent were experiencing traumatic symptoms, 27 per cent have attempted suicide, 23 per cent had resorted to substance and drug abuse, and 21 per cent had inflicted bodily harm such as cutting and burning.

Sentiments of discontentment have been shared by some LGBTQ+ youths who spoke with The Gleaner on Thursday under the condition of anonymity. Some of them reported dealing with trauma, anxiety, and depression.

Two women aged 20 and 23 who both identify as lesbian said they have been unable to access mental-health care in Jamaica. This is the outcome of a series of unanswered calls to the Ministry of Health & Wellness.

The 20-year-old said she had no choice but to seek help from overseas, which has proven to be far more beneficial.

Others have faced difficulties in locating LGBTQ+ friendly healthcare locations.

Shannan Miller, a clinical psychology student at The University of the West Indies, Mona, is urging a national conversation geared towards consensus as most people remain misinformed about sexual minorities and are imposing their biases on those they treat.

“Not a lot of mental-health service providers are openly saying, ‘I will not treat these people,’ but then when members of the community are to access mental-health services, they experience [and] get to a place where they are feeling uncomfortable or they feel like, ‘This service provider just doesn’t get me or understand what I am experiencing,’” Miller said on Wednesday.

A 21-year-old pansexual female told The Gleaner that she had been dealing with trauma from sexual assault and neglect.

A pansexual is an individual who is sexually or romantically attracted to people of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

“Majority of them never gave me the feeling like they genuinely cared. I felt like they were all seasoned and so used to their job that they never really took the time out to realise that this is somebody new to them,” she told The Gleaner.

Humane response

The pansexual also complained about not receiving a “humane response” in her interactions with care personnel.

Morgan’s study included 380 service providers, with 200 responding to the survey. Seventy-seven per cent of those polled said they had never received any training on how to care for LGBTQ+ people.

Ninety-five per cent of those surveyed admitted to rejecting care to LGBTQ+ people.

Murray indicated that anecdotal accounts of calls to Equality for All’s hotline suggested that the majority of those reaching out for help have mental-health challenges as a result of family conflict as they try to navigate life as an LGBTQ+ person in society.

“So you are growing up and you are trying to discover who you are essentially and so you are having a very [difficult] ... relationship in your family and it manifests itself in all of these mental-health complications,” said Murray.

The 23-year-old woman cited earlier said she had a difficult childhood which has left her with much trauma in what she calls a toxic society.

“I had a really rough childhood up until I left my mother’s house at age 19,” she said.

She also reported receiving death threats from men whose romantic overtures she has turned down.

The LGBTQ+ youths’ collective wish for Jamaica is for greater tolerance of diversity.

“Jamaicans need to stop acting as if we are animals or inanimate objects and not humans just as they are ... ,” the 20-year-old said.

“One day Jamaica will be able to accept individuality and diversity. Understand that the world isn’t just black and white, it’s black, white and very colourful in-between.”