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Lesbian and gay mental health

Being lesbian or gay isn't a mental health problem. And it doesn't cause mental health problems.

But those of us who are lesbian or gay may have experiences that lead to poor mental health.

You may also face unique challenges – such as different experiences of sexism, depending on your gender. This might include different pressures to conform to traditional gender roles.

This page covers:

This page is part of our guide to:

LGBTQIA+ mental health

Remember: there can be many positive experiences that come with being lesbian or gay.

Our page on self-care includes tips for finding these positive experiences.

Lesbian is a term used to describe a woman who is sexually or romantically attracted to another woman.

Gay is a term used to describe a man who is sexually or romantically attracted to another man. Some women may also describe themselves as gay. And some non-binary people may also use these terms.

You may use one or more of these terms to describe yourself. Or you may use other terms – Stonewall's glossary includes many more. You may also feel like you don't need to define yourself with any terms. 

Homophobia

You may experience negative views and treatment for being lesbian or gay. This could be from people around you and wider society.

These experiences may include:

  • Negative attitudes suggesting that homosexuality is wrong or not normal.
  • Assumptions that you're heterosexual.
  • Worries about expressing yourself in public. For example, you may avoid holding hands with a partner, for fear of how other people will react.
  • Loneliness because of the negative attitudes you face about your sexuality. You may worry about building other relationships if you've been treated badly before.

Homophobia can also run deeper than any specific incident or person. It can feel like an everyday part of the world we live in.

Difficult experiences of coming out

Telling people you're lesbian or gay is something you'll likely do many times. You might find it liberating, allowing you to be yourself. It could also be difficult and have painful consequences.

You may worry about facing discrimination or homophobia if you tell people. Or if you already tried and it went badly, you might not feel safe doing it again.

Feeling unable to tell people about being lesbian or gay may affect your wellbeing. And it could contribute to mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Whether you decide to tell everyone, some people or no-one, nobody should make that choice apart from you.

Internalised homophobia

You may feel bad about your own sexuality because of negative attitudes around you. You could feel as if it's wrong or abnormal, and experience low self-esteem. This is sometimes called internalised homophobia.

Experiencing these negative feelings can affect your mental health. For example, it may contribute to depression and anxiety.

Discrimination

You may be treated unfairly because of your sexuality if you're lesbian or gay.

Not everyone will have these negative experiences. Excellent services and organisations do exist. But in society as a whole, LGBTQIA+ people are treated unequally.

Discrimination could happen in many areas of life, including:

  • The healthcare system. Some health professionals may not know enough about lesbian and gay people's needs and experiences. They may have negative attitudes about you. Or they might assume you're heterosexual, putting you under pressure to be open about your sexuality. This can make it more difficult to trust services and seek help.
  • Workplaces. You may face negative attitudes from employers and colleagues. You might not feel confident reporting homophobic bullying to your employer. And you may worry about being treated badly at work or in job interviews, because of who you are. So you might feel like you need to hide your identity.

Experiencing discrimination can increase your risk of poor mental health. This is especially if you face different types of discrimination. For example, discrimination to do with your sexuality and your race. See our page on intersectionality and LGBTQIA+ to find out more about different types of discrimination. 

It can also help to know your legal rights. Discrimination in some settings is not lawful in the UK under the Equality Act 2010. For example, unfair treatment from employers or healthcare professionals. 

See our page on complaining about health and social care for information on how to challenge discrimination by healthcare professionals.

Abuse and hate crime

Abuse is when someone hurts you physically, sexually, emotionally or financially. It can also include making threats towards you or damaging your belongings. A hate crime is when this abuse happens because of who you are, such as being lesbian or gay.

You might experience abuse and hate online or in person. It could be from a stranger or someone you know. These experiences could make you feel unsafe. They can also impact your mental health – such as causing anxiety, sleep problems, suicidal feelings or PTSD.

Other experiences of discrimination or homophobia might make it harder to tell people what happened. You might worry that it won't be taken seriously. Or you might not realise that what you've experienced was abuse or hate.

Abuse and hate crimes are illegal. You deserve to feel safe.

To find out more, visit the charity Galop's information about hate and abuse. Or call Galop's confidential helpline for support. 

Conversion 'therapy'

Conversion 'therapy' means any practice that tries to change or suppress your sexual orientation or gender identity. It is a form of abuse. It may happen even though there is nothing wrong with being lesbian or gay. You do not need to be 'cured' or changed.

These practices can include:

  • Formal sessions that present themselves as 'therapy'
  • More subtle practices, such as family members or faith groups advising you how to avoid acting on your sexual orientation
  • More extreme practices, such as physical and sexual violence or exorcisms

Conversion 'therapy' practices are unethical and harmful. Among other things, they can contribute to:

Mind is calling for an outright ban of conversion practices. The government has proposed a ban to end conversion 'therapy'. The proposed ban covers lesbian and gay people. But not ace or aro, bi+, non-binary or intersex people.

In the UK, many major health organisations have also condemned this dangerous practice. And all major counselling and psychotherapy bodies have called for an end to it.

Published: May 2024

Next review planned: May 2027

References and bibliography available on request.

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