Number 13 in our countdown of '70 Ways Art Improves Our Health' highlights how art can help LGBTQ people overcome the challenges they still face…

Last year marked 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, but that landmark date was hardly the end of the story. There have been many steps along the way since then, both in terms of shifts in social attitude and legislation (discrimination based on sexual orientation was only banned in 2007).

While the proportion of the public who say they approve of same-sex relationships has risen hugely over the past 30 years, there has also been a rise in reports of homophobic hate crimes.

Like all of us, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people will experience mental health issues in their lives. But the evidence shows that levels of depression, anxiety and stress is far higher for LGBTQ people - this is especially true for trans people and LGBTQ people of colour. Sadly, much of this is due to the many negative impacts of discrimination and marginalisation.

The hardest thing I have ever had to deal with was accepting my sexuality. But it’s who I am. In fact, it is something that I would never want to change.

Ruby, The Trevor Project

Thanks to changing attitudes, young people today are five times more likely to identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual compared to people over 65. But still, according to a 2012 report, 23% of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people have tried to take their own life at some point.

We may think that LGBTQ people are receiving the support they need at school or general care services. But a report last year showed that half of LGBT people in school are still being bullied, and only one in five have been taught about safe sex in relation to same-sex relationships. Shockingly, another survey in 2014, looking at the attitudes of healthcare professionals to LGBT patients, found that 24% of patient-facing staff had heard colleagues make negative remarks about lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

Rejection by those we love and respect can be very damaging, especially when we’re young. And this rejection is made worse by the loss of relationships that would otherwise have offered us support. This is the potential reality faced by LGBTQ people when coming out, which is why research has shown that levels of emotional and physical wellbeing decrease considerably during this time.

So where can young LGBTQ people turn when trying to navigate their sexual or gender anxieties, possible internalised homophobia/transphobia, and the many labels (imposed or chosen) surrounding their identity?

In recent years art therapy has gained popularity and has been shown to be an effective intervention for LGBTQ people in the coming out process. One of the big advantages art therapy has over other forms of therapy is the atmosphere. Art therapy is designed to help people feel at ease, to shift the focus of attention to art and creation.

Art therapy has also been demonstrated to be effective in helping young people to overcome bullying and discrimination. It is a way of helping LGBTQ people to identify and begin to deal with emotions that are difficult to process, even if they can’t be put into words.

As we know, when things are too difficult to talk about, art provides a new language with which we can communicate, and art therapy is already making a big difference to many young LGBTQ people.

  • To find out more about where you can access art therapy, we recommend this page at Mind.

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