Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual is able to use the resources available to them, cope with stressors and challenges in their life, and maintain productive and purposeful activity. When these balances are tipped to one side or the other, people may develop mental health problems. There are numerous potential causes for this. A person’s identity is formed by their experiences growing up in addition to their genetics and biology.

Those who identify as LGBTQ often experiences the pressure of coming out, finding acceptance from family or peers, and dealing with potential rejection or discrimination. The stress associated with being part of this community can cause mental health issues for some people. It's not a given that you require counselling as a result of this. It simply means that support from therapy could help you understand where you are at in life, make sense of your challenges, and find resolutions for problems that have been affecting you.

A holistic approach to mental health

When applied to mental health, a holistic approach allows us to consider all aspects of an individual’s life to achieve greater wellness. This includes attention to an individual’s environment, relationships, and even spirituality. Environment - An important element of mental health is your surrounding environment. For example, your physical environment (the temperature of your house, the amount of natural light), the people around you, and the amount of time you spend in these environments. An individual’s environment may also extend beyond their immediate surroundings. For example, the culture of the organisation you work for can have an impact on your mental health. When considering your environment, you may ask yourself questions like, “What’s going well? What’s not going so well?” or “What could change to improve my mental health?” Relationships – Relationships play a significant role in one's mental health. An individual may want to consider the relationships in their life and their impact on their mental health. You may want to consider relationships at work, school, or at home. Relationships may also extend beyond your present circumstances (for example, your relationship with your parents or peers from childhood).

A brief history of mental health care for LGBTQ+ individuals

While most LGBTQ+ identities have existed throughout history, the formal study of mental health as a term, disorder, and treatment method is a relatively new development. Before the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people who exhibited signs of mental illness were often treated through physical punishment or restraint. It wasn’t until the 1890s that the first mental health facilities began to appear that separated “normal” patients from those who were deemed “insane.” The goal was to help patients who were facing severe forms of psychological distress, but psychiatric hospitals often abused the power of their position. The brutality of this method of treatment for mental illness was further demonstrated after World War II, when the rates of PTSD skyrocketed and veterans were treated in these same psychiatric hospitals. Since the 1970s, a new understanding of mental health has emerged. This new perspective on mental health recognizes that it’s not just a binary state of wellness or illness. Rather, it’s a fluid state that everyone moves in and out of depending on their environment and experiences.

Why is it so hard to find mental health support?

For many LGBTQ+ individuals, there is a reluctance to reach out for mental health assistance. As was discussed in the previous section, historically, mental health treatment and institutions have been harmful to queer people. This hesitation to reach out for mental health assistance and the subsequent isolation, it creates can lead to feelings of shame. It can also lead to feelings of inadequacy. If you can’t even acknowledge and reach out when you need help, how are you supposed to be a productive member of society? If you can’t even ask for the assistance you need, how can you be expected to take care of others? This kind of shame and inadequacy can take a serious toll on your mental health. It can lead to depression and anxiety, and can even cause PTSD. If you’re experiencing these serious mental health challenges, you need to reach out for help immediately. Letting these feelings of shame and inadequacy fester is only going to make you sicker.

What is queer affirmative therapy?

Queer affirmative therapy is a new model of therapy that recognizes the unique challenges faced by individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ and applies a holistic, person-centered approach to mental health. A holistic approach to mental health recognizes the interconnectedness of the human experience and the importance of considering all aspects of an individual’s life to achieve greater wellness. This approach often includes attention to an individual’s environment, relationships, and even spirituality.

Importance of queer affirmative counselling in India

A new perspective on mental health is needed because the current model fails to recognize the unique challenges faced by individuals who identify as LGBTQ+. For example, a straight, cisgender individual may decide to seek therapy after a trauma, such as a car accident or the death of a loved one. However, a person who identifies as queer may also be in a car accident or experience the loss of a loved one. They may then decide to seek therapy, but find that the services are not designed with them in mind. They may find that the services do not meet their needs or that they are not comfortable seeking help from someone who is not knowledgeable about the unique challenges they face. Queer affirmative therapy acknowledges the unique challenges faced by individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, and their strengths and resilience. It also recognizes the importance of considering the individual’s relationships and environment to achieve greater wellness.

How to receive queer affirmative counselling in India?

To achieve queer affirmative therapy in India, we must first learn to recognize the unique challenges faced by individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ and develop a culturally competent approach to mental health. To recognize the unique challenges faced by individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, we must first understand their experiences. For example, we often assume that coming out as queer ends at adolescence, when in reality, many individuals continue to come out throughout their lives. Coming out at different points in our lives often presents new challenges, such as finding adequate support or feeling confident in our ability to seek help.

Aanchal Narang, founder of Another Light Counselling, is a faculty member of MHI's Queer-Affirmative Certificate in Consulting Practice program. She has spoken at universities such as the Whistling Woods International and even worked with patients receiving palliative care at the Make-a-Wish Foundation. She has worked with many LGBTQIA+ clients and also manages a phone line for LABIA, an LBT queer feminist group.

In addition to assisting LGBTQIA+ clients in achieving their mental health goals, counsellors at Another Light Counselling are trained to handle the numerous forms of discrimination that queer individuals may encounter due to their gender, color, social status, etc. Another Light Counseling provides easily accessible, reasonably priced, and culturally appropriate counselling services in an effort to eliminate the stigma associated with receiving queer affirmative counselling in India. Clinicians use extensive affirmative therapy approaches and consider the special characteristics and experiences of each client.