Mental health in the African LGBTQ+ community should not be ignored
This article was written in collaboration with Sociétés Inclusives to bring awareness about mental health issues in the LGBTQ+ community.
Talking about mental health should never be a choice especially to LGBTQ+ community in Africa. The frustration and struggles LGBTQ+ people face in their life expose them to be vulnerable when it comes to mental illness. The studies has demonstrated that LGBTQ+ community are luckily to have problems with mental health. This study conducted in the western, is also related to African LGBTQ+ community. Hence, probably even worse than it may be reported. Having laws that are hostile to LGBTQ+ strengthen the belief that LGBTQ+ is a crime, unnatural and the belief that one can change to become “Normal”. The solution is to become heterosexual at all cost.
LGBTQ+ people struggle to embrace their sexuality. They try harder to change, forcing themselves to fit in a world that neglects and rejects them at all costs. A harmful behavior and draining lifestyle. As the world is trying to raise awareness on mental health, does the concern feel the same in all corners of the world?
The reality reveals that in some parts of Africa, it is still a challenge. Mental health is considered a western world issue. It is true, in a society where community comes first before the individual, the feeling of loneliness may be less than in the individualistic society as portrayed the western to be. However feeling lonely in a community can be more painful. In a community based society, you have to converge your personal identity to the community identity. Most of the time there is less space for diversity. It can be perceived as a treat or obstacle. This is the case of homosexuality and other sexual minorities in Africa as well.
While the church plays a big role in community wellbeing by providing services such as listening, counseling and guidance in Africa, the LGBTQ+ community does not benefit from these services. The culture of visiting a psychologist or psychotherapist is not common like in Europe or North America. Nevertheless, religion comes second if not first institution after the government in condemning LGBTQ+ community.
Where then LGBTQ+ community can get the help needed? This question is hard to reply even though they are associations that try to offer support and care to them. The bottom line is that, growing up as a LGBTQ+ person is a traumatizing experience to many in Africa. For this, LGBTQ+ people are more vulnerable to mental illness than the rest of society. There is no doubt studies need to be done to understand more about homesexuality and mental health in the African context.
Though the church plays a big role in social life, it is not a specialized institution to treat mental illness. It does not have tools and competences to handle matters such as mental health. It is understandable, it is not its field. This is what experienced Patrick, a 28 years old young man who was diagnosed with Bipolarity and kept on having breakdowns. His Christian community failed to understand his illness and felt unconsidered and marginalized. Beside being Bipolar, Patrick is also gay.
He believes his sexuality to be the cause of his mental illness. He kept his sexual orientation hidden because for a long time because he was convinced that being is wrong. He fought with all his strength to change in order to please the God he was taught to be merciful and loving. Today Patrick is aware about his mental health and thanks to the help of a few people, he is getting the support he needs . He doesn’t hide the disappointment of being failed by his community, a gesture that he calls “a fruit of ignorance and lack of compassion” .He however hopes to see the discussion on Mental health as well as homosexuality being normalised one day in Burundi