Supporting LGBTQI+ young people and understanding the challenges they face

Written by Alex Agius Saliba on 19 May 2020 in Opinion
Opinion

In a society that places increasing pressure on all of us, we must be aware of mental health difficulties and how to offer support. LGBTQI+ young people are particularly vulnerable, writes Alex Agius Saliba.

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Mental health must always be a priority at national and European levels, and the mental health needs of our people must be at the core of our decisions at policy level too. We need to ensure that populations are aware of the importance of mental health and we must promote positive mental health while establishing measures to prevent related issues.

Our ever changing society is a threat to our mental health: life becomes busier by the day; information is disseminated at dizzying speed and social media appears to be everywhere. Developments and changes in society, where the bar for success seems to be set ever-higher, are a constant source of discomfort and discontent to those unable to accomplish what they are led to believe anyone can.


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All of us will face mental health difficulties at certain points in our lives. Those thoughts at the back of your mind that haunt you at night, that sinking feeling inside on waking up and trying to find the will to live and face another day, the increased heart rate and hyperventilation when you feel anxious and have trouble concentrating. We’ve all been there, and we will all experience some of these symptoms during our lives.

While some experience them periodically, others must learn to cope with them every single day. Therefore, it is vitally important that each one of us is aware of what mental health difficulties mean, not only to understand the true nature of anxiety and depression, but to be able to help one another in these circumstances. We must also be aware that certain segments of our society are more susceptible to mental health challenges. than others.

"LGBTQI+ young people are one of these most vulnerable cohorts in society, due to their increased risk of mental health problems and should be considered a priority group for help"

This is the reason why I posed a parliamentary question, asking the European Commission to clarify what actions it intends to take to address the mental health problems affecting LGBTQI+ young people. LGBTQI+ young people are one of these most vulnerable cohorts in society, due to their increased risk of mental health problems and should be considered a priority group for help.

Although they represent only a small proportion of the population of young people, they face increased risk of experiencing hostile environments at home and in the wider society , compared to their heterosexual counterparts. These young people are facing challenges in society from increased levels of stigma, discrimination and victimisation.

We all remember being young and experiencing adolescence, which is a developmental period during which we explore our sexuality and develop an understanding of our own sexual and gender orientation. This can be a difficult time, one when many young people experience anxiety and depression. However, they are even more difficult and sensitive times for those young people who experience different types of attractions, particularly in a society that often assumes that each person is heterosexual.

It is a crucial period that can result in significant psychological challenges for LGBTQI+ minority youth if, during this time, they feel discriminated against or subject to homophobia. Family acceptance also has a significant influence on the mental health of these young people. If they do not feel accepted by their family, it will be more difficult for them to “come out” and disclose their sexual orientation and gender identity – this stress can negatively impact their mental health.

"Although they represent only a small proportion of the population of young people, they face increased risk of experiencing hostile environments at home and in wider society, compared to their heterosexual counterparts"

The feeling of not belonging and not being valued by your loved ones or by society at large can create emotional barriers and difficulties. In this respect, we in the European Union must also provide support to those young people who, during the COVID-19 lockdown, are trapped inside with parents who may not accept their child as gay or transgender.

These months of self-isolation or mandatory quarantine are affecting the mental health of young people. This is why we need to provide them with greater support and assistance during this pandemic and we need to think ahead to devise the plans and methods needed to assist them after these difficult and turbulent times.

As an MEP from Malta, a country that is a role model in the world for LGBTIQ+ inclusivity, as confirmed by the ILGA-Europe Rainbow Europe LGBTIQ Index, I cannot stress enough the importance of promoting and safeguarding the rights and needs of the LGBTIQ+ community.

It is our duty to ensure that, with our policies, Europe provides these children, young citizens and adults with countries and societies that allow them to be themselves and provide them with the necessary emotional and mental support.

About the author

Alex Agius Saliba (MT, S&D) is co-chair of Parliament’s Alliance for Mental Health intergroup

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