The South African Depression and Anxiety Group reports that the LGBTI community is three to four times more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression.
While these conditions affect around 10% of the general South African population, the rate amongst LGBTI people is between 31% and 45%.
The statistics were highlighted this July, which is mental illness awareness month.
According to Right to Care, a non-profit organisation that provides LGBTI sensitisation health care training, the LGBTI community is also more prone to suffer from substance abuse disorders as a form of relief from tremendous stress.
“As an organisation that works with the LGBTI community we are not surprised,” said Edward Mbizo Sibanda, Right to Care’s Global Fund Programme Coordinator for MSM and LGBT Programmes. “There are a lot of factors that affect the stress levels of LGBTI people.”
Several variables are given as potential risk factors, including lack of self-esteem, the level of social integration of an individual into gay and lesbian communities, the frequency of victimisation experienced, including hate speech and physical abuse, and fear of victimisation.
Sibanda called for “up-scaling and intensification of programmes that are seeking to sensitise and make our communities aware of the sexual diversity of the country. We also need to look at human rights education in terms of our Constitution and that all our rights are guaranteed and need to be upheld.”
Right to Care noted that LGBTI people in rural and peri-urban areas in particular rarely have access to trauma counselling and many develop serious mental illnesses as a result of the violence and discrimination they face almost daily. The lack of ability to seek health care only compounds this stress.
Ian Ralph, COO of Right to Care, added: “We all need to challenge homophobia, biphobia and transphobia we witness – at work, at school, in the home, on social media or in our healthcare facilities and create more inclusive spaces that are tolerant of all.”
The latest Gauteng City-Region Observatory Quality of Life Survey found that 14% of the province’s citizens say it is acceptable to be violent to gay and lesbian people.
It also found that only 56% agreed that gay and lesbian people deserve equal rights with all South Africans. Disturbingly, this is a major fall from 2013 when 71% agreed with the statement.