This past week marked two major awareness days. World Mental Health Day and National Coming Out Day. These days are important for educating the public and helping members of these groups know that they are not alone.
World Mental Health Day
World Mental Health Day was started in 1992 as a way to educate and reduce stigma. This year’s theme was Suicide Prevention. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 800,000 people die by suicide a year, making it the principal cause of death among people fifteen to twenty-nine years old.
Suicide is hard to talk about. I have seen many articles this year talking about signs to look out for, where to reach out for help, and reminding people to check on their friends and families. I love this and I am so happy that people are talking about it.
I remember when I was a counseling intern and my supervisor and I were role-playing suicide assessments. I remember how hard it was for me to even say the word “suicide”. I kept wanting to say “Are you thinking of hurting yourself?” instead of “killing yourself” or “Suicide”. Why is this wrong? Because “hurting yourself” means different things to different people, you may not get an accurate answer. Also, if your client sees that you are uncomfortable talking about suicide, they will not tell you.
Remember talking about Suicide, does not make people kill themselves. If the idea was not there before you cannot “put the idea in their heads”.
I know it is scary reaching out for help with Suicidal Thoughts. Contrary to popular belief, you will not be automatically “locked up” for suicidal thoughts. If you tell your therapist that you are thinking about suicide, your therapist will ask you follow up questions to find out exactly what you are thinking and how they can help you best.
In some cases full hospitalization or partial hospitalization are options. In most cases, your therapist will work with you to develop a safety plan (a plan for what you will do when you have these thoughts) and help you to build coping skills so suicidal thoughts will be reduced.
National Coming Out Day
National Coming Out Day was founded in 1988 by Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary. The belief is that exposure is the antidote of homophobia and that only by people coming out, will homophobics realize that they have people they love who are part of the LGBTQ community.
Most people think they don’t know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact, everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.– Robert Eichberg
This is something I have alway said “The opposite of Hate is Exposure” and “Isolation breeds hate”. This is the basis for much work currently being done in race relations, such as the work of Daryl Davis, who befriended KKK members and has gotten them to leave the Klan. Read more about him here.
All that being said, when a person chooses to come out is a very personal decision. Coming out can be very scary for many reasons. For some people coming out could cause them to lose their job, home, family or even their lives.
Know your biases and understand them. Learn all you can for yourself about LGBTQ issues and concerns, attend trainings, remember it is not the responsibility of your clients to educate you.
I feel like this should not have to be said, but I’m going to say it anyway… The American Psychiatric Association has stated that “the potential risks of reparative therapy (conversion therapy) are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.” If you cannot put your biases aside, you can refer to a trusted colleague. It is healthier for the client to be working with someone who will be their ally.
If you are looking to get support with coming out, relationship issues, anxiety, depression, PTSD, empowerment, and many other goals therapy can be a great resource. One way to find a therapist that is an ally, is to go to Psychology Today. On this website, you can filter your search for therapists in your area that are allied with LGBTQ groups.
If you come out to your therapist and they tell you they can heal or fix you. Remember you are NOT BROKEN. Read that again! Check if you live in one of the 18 states that conversion therapy is illegal and report them to the state licensing board.
Most of all, awareness is about reducing stigma. We must get out of our comfort zone, talk to strangers, travel, and deeply listen to people’s stories. We all have biases. We must understand our biases in order to overcome them.