If you are part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer/questioning (LGBTIQ+) community and are struggling with your mental health, you’re not alone.
Research has shown that LGBTIQ+ Australians experience higher rates of mental illness and distress than those that are not sex, gender or sexuality diverse. This is often related to the stigma, discrimination and abuse faced by the LGBTIQ+ community.
Sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity are deeply personal and can be complex. If you’re given a hard time about your identity, help is available.
What is sex, gender, and sexuality?
Sex is assigned to you at birth based on the appearance of your external genitalia. That is, whether you appear to have a penis or vagina. Most people will be marked as male or female, those with more ambiguous genitals may be labelled intersex or another term.
Gender is how you feel about yourself. Whether you feel male, female, nonbinary, or another gender. Your gender might be the same or different to the sex you were assigned at birth.
Transgender (trans) and gender diverse people have gender incongruence, meaning their gender is incongruent, or different, to their sex assigned at birth.
The most common genders are male and female, which are binary genders. Nonbinary refers to genders that are not exclusively male or female. Nonbinary people might call also call themselves:
- gender queer — meaning their gender is not binary
- gender fluid — meaning their gender changes over time
- agender — meaning they have no sense of gender, or another term
Sexuality refers to an individual’s sexual and romantic attraction to others. There are many ways you can describe your sexuality.
Some common examples are:
- Heterosexual or straight: you are attracted to individuals of the opposite gender.
- Homosexual or gay: you are attracted to individuals of the same gender.
- Lesbian: you identify as female, and are sexually or romantically attracted to other females.
- Bisexual: you are attracted to more than one gender.
- Pansexual: your sexual and/or romantic attraction to others is not restricted by gender. You can be sexually or romantically attracted to any individual, regardless of their gender identity.
- Asexual: you have low or no sexual attraction or desire to have sex.
Some asexual people experience sexual attraction in specific circumstances. Some are still romantically attracted to others, while others have no romantic attraction or desire to be in a relationship and may also identify as aromantic.
The term queer describes a range of sexual orientations and gender identities. It is often used as an umbrella term to describe the full range of LGBTIQ+ identities.
What you call yourself is up to you. You don’t have to label yourself at all. There are endless ways to experience gender and sexuality, and that may change over time.
What if you’re questioning your sexual orientation or gender identity?
It’s normal to question your sexuality and gender.
Some people are quite clear about how they identify early on in life. Others don’t think about it until adulthood. And it can change over time.
It can take a long time to fully understand yourself, your gender, and your sexual preferences. It’s ok if you’re not sure or if how you feel changes.
If you are feeling distressed or need support, ask for help from someone you trust. There are many places you can find additional information and support.
How can I tell people about my sexual orientation and gender identity?
Having to hide part of ourselves can be really difficult and upsetting. Our gender identity and sexuality are an important part of who we are.
Many people have good experiences of sharing their sexuality and gender. It can lead to acceptance and support, closer connections, and joy in being able to openly be your whole self.
Unfortunately, many people also fear being open about their gender and sexuality due to the possibility of negative reactions, discrimination, bullying or violence. This can happen, and it’s important to make sure you are safe to come out or share that part of yourself.
If someone rejects you because of your sexuality or gender, consider whether the relationship is worthwhile. Give them time to get used to the idea, if you feel able. It may have taken you time (perhaps years) to accept your gender and sexuality yourself.
If you’re having doubts, experience negative reactions, or are feeling distressed, seek further support.
LGBTIQ+ communities and common mental health issues
Compared to the general population, LGBTIQ+ people are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts.
Being LGBTIQ+ itself does not cause mental illness. But the ongoing stigma, bulling, abuse, and discrimination can. This may lead to issues with work, relationships, finances, housing and everything else.
Stress from feeling different can lead you to feel on guard the whole time, and you may be alienated from your friends and family.
On top of this, you may also experience your own internalised homophobia or transphobia.
It’s important to remember that you are not alone, and there is help available. There are many people in the LGBTIQ+ community in Australia. There are also some great organisations supporting the health and wellbeing of the LGBTIQ+ communities.
If you are struggling with your mental health, the best thing to do is to seek help as soon as possible.
Resources and support
You may wish to reach out to safe friends and family members. Talking to your doctor or mental health professional is also a great idea.
Below is a list of organisations that provide further information and support.
- QLife — counselling and referral service for LGBTIQ+ individuals: call 1800 184 527 (3pm to midnight daily) or chat online.
- Lifeline — support for anyone having a personal crisis: call 13 11 14, 24/7, text, or chat online.
- Suicide Call Back Service — for anyone thinking about suicide: call 1300 659 467.
- Beyond Blue — for anyone feeling depressed or anxious: call 1300 22 4636, email or chat online, 24/7.
- Headspace — mental health space for ages 12-25 years.
- Kids Helpline — mental health support for young people aged 5-25 years. Call 1800 55 1800 anytime.
- ACON — LGBTIQ+ health and HIV prevention and support.
- TransHub — ACON’s digital trans and gender diverse platform.
- Head to Health — a guide to digital mental health services from some of Australia’s most trusted mental health organisations, including a list of phone support services.
- PFLAG — Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
- ReachOut — mental health resources for young people.
If you are at immediate risk of harm, call 000 for emergency services.
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Last reviewed: June 2022