Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Out on Your Own

It's the title of new research on the experience of growing up gay in Northern Ireland published yesterday. I can assure you that the title, with its ironies, is very apt. The news article I quote in full below, because it is worth reading, if you care. It's appalling and yet not at all surprising. I'll return to this topic again.

'Quarter of young gay men in Northern Ireland have attempted suicide'
Tuesday 28/03/2006 16:28:22 Press Association

A quarter of young gay or bisexual men in Northern Ireland have attempted suicide, new mental health research revealed today.

Nearly two thirds considered killing themselves and 30% self harmed, a survey disclosed.

The scale of the hidden emotional torment among non-heterosexual men, aged under 25, emerged in findings in advance of a major national conference in Belfast which will consider calls on the British Government to fund training and resources on different sexual orientations to all professionals working with young people, including teachers, youth workers and health and social services staff.

Three years of research among 190 young men, which was carried out by the Rainbow Project, revealed one third were diagnosed as having a mental illness at some time in their lives with almost as many having had a potential psychiatric disorder.

A quarter had attempted suicide; over two thirds thought about taking their own lives while four out of five who had suicidal thoughts indicated they were related to same sex attraction.

Among the key factors which contributed to suicidal thoughts and self harm were homonegative experiences in school, bullying, homophobia from other pupils and neighbours.

According to the survey, different factors which affected their mental health were:

- Difficulties in accepting their sexuality

- A shortage of people who understood what they were going through

- Homophobia at home, within society and at schools, even among teaching staff.

- Loneliness and isolation.

The findings will be debated at a conference in Belfast tomorrow to be opened by the Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, Bob Collins.

The research entitled `Out on Your Own` claimed blatant homophobia and negative attitudes within many families resulting in young gays moving away. Outside the houses, the same attitudes were widespread throughout Northern Ireland.

Repeated instances of homophobia had a negative affect on their mental health, and the survey claimed the needs of young same sex attracted men were currently not being met.

With limited support available in school and family settings, young men and women had no choice but to seek out other lesbians and gay and bisexual men (LGB) through the Internet and gay scene. It was invaluable to some.

But the findings added: "However these avenues often do nothing to discourage self destructive behaviours, such as alcohol or drug misuse or unsafe sex and they may not provide a supportive milieu for a young man who is lacking in self-confidence."

It said addressing the mental health needs of young gays was not a straightforward task.

Lesbian, gay and bi-sexual youth groups, personal development courses and individual counselling all had parts to play.

Changes also needed to be made to the psyche of our culture, and despite the changes to legislation, there were still many facets of society that were heterosexist and homophobic.

The findings added: "The needs of this population must be included in the strategic planning of organisations that work with young people, accompanied by inclusive polices which address the needs of lesbian, gay and bi-sexual people and staff training.

"It is only when all sectors begin to be inclusive of LGB people that this acceptance can filter through to the rest of society."