Explore the significance of mental health support for the LGBTQ+ community, challenges faced, and affirmative counselling initiatives. Discover how organisations like elop are making a difference.

Why is mental health support, particularly for our community, such an important topic?

LGBT+ people have long been pathologized by mental health professionals. Being LGBT+ was understood and described as criminal, perverse, degenerative, contagious, and dangerous. It was something to be cured or contained. Whilst opinions have shifted over the years, these ideas have left a lasting legacy. People now understand that experiencing and anticipating discrimination and stigma lead to poor mental health; but lack of awareness and training, and entrenched beliefs, continue to do damage.

As a result:

  • LGBT+ people are over-represented in mental health services; are more likely to self-harm; and to attempt suicide
  • LGBT+ people have difficulty accessing services because they feel or fear their needs haven’t been considered by the service provider, including because the language used is exclusive of those who have an LGBT+ identity
  • LGBT+ people are more likely to:
    • Develop low self-esteem
    • Experience domestic violence
    • Become homeless
    • Develop mental health problems
    • Self-harm
    • Be socially excluded or isolated
    • Attempt suicide

(LGBT in Britain Health Report 2018)

LGBT+ experience of Healthcare:

  • 20% of LGBT+ people aren’t out to any healthcare professional about their sexual orientation. This rises to 40% of bisexual men and 29% of bisexual women
  • 14% have avoided treatment for fear of discrimination

Many LGBT+ people anticipate judgement and rejection, leading some to avoid seeking necessary support.

However, services continue to discriminate against LGBT+ people

  • 10% have been outed without their consent by healthcare staff in front of other staff or patients
  • 27% of trans people have been outed without their consent

(LGBT in Britain Health Report 2018)

Trauma:

  • 47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime (Trans Lives Survey 2021)
  • 16% of LGBT+ people experienced violence and abuse daily; 36% experienced it at least weekly; 64% experienced it at least monthly
  • Consequences included physical injuries, emotional and psychological impacts, financial costs, and behaviour changes
  • Emotional impacts included fear, shock, sadness, anger, shame, helplessness, isolation, loneliness, humiliation, and feeling worthless (Galop Hate Crime Report 2021)

The lack of awareness and understanding, particularly regarding gender variant people, is a major concern.

What are the challenges in 2024 compared to 10 years ago for the LGBTQ+ community?

In the last decade, 60% of LGBT+ safe spaces in London have closed down. These are particularly important in maintaining support networks and reducing social isolation. The current climate is particularly hostile to transgender and non-binary people, with media representation largely negative and de-humanising. Historic pathologising ideas are still present, as the findings of Galop’s 2019 survey below demonstrates:

  • 1 in 5 people said being LGBT was ‘immoral or against their beliefs’. This rose to 1 in 4 among 18 – 24 year olds
  • 10% thought that LGBT people were ‘dangerous’
  • 10% said that being LGBT could be ‘cured’
  • 20% showed reluctance to the idea of having LGB neighbours, this rose to more than 1 in 4 for trans neighbours

The British Attitudes survey 2022 shows how opinions towards transgender people are becoming more critical and negative.

Many people think that coming out as gay has got easier. Research tells a different story:

  • Half of LGBT+ young adults in UK are estranged from at least one family member because of their sexuality or gender identity (Just Like Us, 2023)
  • LGBT+ young people are twice as likely to have depression, anxiety, and panic attacks and worry about their mental health on a daily basis (Just Like Us, 2022)

Impact of Covid-19 on LGBTQ+ mental health

As a starting point, LGBTQ+ mental health is significantly lower than in the general population. Self-harming among gender diverse people has increased by 7%, compared with 2% in cis-gendered people. LGBTQ+ people reporting “poor” or “extremely poor” mental health has almost doubled to 61%. The report found similar increases in experiences of depression and anxiety and gender diverse and ethnic minorities were particularly affected. LGBTQ+ safe spaces including groups, bars, and clubs have always offered a place to be accepted, so lockdown and the closure of indoor spaces had a huge impact (Hidden Figures 2020)

Work:

LGBT+ people are more likely to be paid less than heterosexual people and are more likely to be in less secure jobs.

Tell us about LGBTQ+ Affirmative training for counsellors? Who is it for? And why is it unique?

elop is excited to announce the launch of its new counselling course in LGBTQ+ Affirmative Counselling, the first of its kind in the UK. elop is in a unique position to be a front-runner in this field. The charity runs the largest LGBTQ+ counselling service in the UK, with 40 counsellors working 6 days a week. The charity has delivered counselling & therapy services to the LGBTQ+ community across London and Essex for 28 years, and its services are in ever increasing high demand. On a daily basis, we see the impact of living in a world where LGBTQ+ people cannot guarantee acceptance of their authentic selves. We believe that all LGBTQ+ people deserve counselling services that are safe, supportive, and LGBTQ+ affirming. elop has uniquely embedded LGBTQ+ experience at the heart of this new course to equip counsellors to demonstrate inclusivity in practice. In 2021 we launched our Foundation Certificate in LGBTQ+ Affirmative Counselling, now quality checked by the National Counselling and Psychotherapy Society. elop’s highly anticipated professional counselling qualification – the Advanced Diploma in Integrative, LGBTQ+ Affirmative Counselling – begins this September. Open to LGBTQ+ people and allies, the course will provide the skills to work with all adults, plus has a specialist focus on supporting LGBTQ+ clients and providing LGBTQ+ affirmative counselling. Our main focus is making sure that diversity and inclusion are not a bolt-on: affirmative practice is at the core of our philosophy. By learning through an affirmative, intersectional & inclusive lens, counsellors will be in a better position to understand their clients and support them with genuine care, understanding, and compassion. elop Clinical Supervisor and Course Adviser, Dr Nikolaos Souvlakis, said: “It starts with you as an individual: what it means to be you, to position yourself in a community, and looks at how to co-create a dialogue to provide a space for everyone to be heard.”

Tell us about elop? How long has it been running? What is its history? Milestones, etc.?

elop is an award-winning LGBT Mental Health and Wellbeing Charity. Founded in 1995, we support LGBT+ communities in London & Essex Over time, elop has evolved to reflect and support the changing – and growing – needs of the LGBT+ community. We remain rooted in our local communities of east London, but we recognize that the challenges our community faces are not geographically bounded, and our reach and impact are now national in scope. In 2022 we re-branded to be formally known as elop. Like the vast majority of LGBT+ community organizations, elop has always been fully trans-inclusive. Since our inception, our services have been used by cis and trans people alike, and in recent years we have begun to offer additional services tailored to the needs of the trans community. In 2022 we amended our constitution to more accurately reflect the trans-inclusive approach we have always taken. By 2018 elop’s counselling team had increased to 40 counsellors, having started from a team of 2 in 1995. Please see below for other milestones

  • 1993 – 1996:
  • First meeting of local lesbian and gay community members exploring how counselling services could be provided
  • First grant received and East London Lesbian and Gay counselling service established
  • 1997 – 2000
  • East London Out Project (“ELOP”) registered as a company limited by guarantee and launched
  • ELOP registered as a charity and one of first 3rd party reporting sites for LGBT+ hate crime
  • Courses for LGBT+ parents, housing, sexual health work and men’s groups launched
  • 2001 – 2004
  • ELOP opened in its own premises, extended to accommodate counselling team of approx.20 in 2004
  • Women’s groups, befriending projects, outreach projects, social support groups launched
  • Youth Out East established to work and support young people
  • 2005 – 2006
  • First International Day Against Homophobia held. Elop  a major contributor to London event
  • Zero Tolerance : Report it Now Campaign concerning homophobic crimes established
  • Shape Up – young gay men’s development project launched and youth counselling provided
  • Community library with employment law advice surgery established with Central London Law Centre
  • 2007 – 2012
  • ELOP leads the first LGBT March in Waltham Forest
  • Family work established including parent, baby and bump group
  • Partner in newly formed National LGB&T Partnership
  • ELOP awarded Stonewall Community Centre of the Year
  • 2014 – 2015
  • Monthly 50+ group, weekly group for LBGT asylum seekers started
  • Counselling team increased to 28
  • Co-authored Out Loud, LGBT voices in health and social care and Lesbian and bisexual women’s experience in health care
  • 2016 – 2017
  • ELOP launches Tower Hamlets LGBT Forum and partners Anti-HBT Bullying Alliance
  • First crowd-funding effort launched
  • National Diversity Award – Community Organisation LGBT+
  • Counselling team increased to 32
  • 2019 – 2020
  • ELOP awarded British LGBT Award – Top 10 LGBT+ Charity
  • Heads Out Service launched (mental health crisis prevention)
  • All services successfully provided online for first time, due to pandemic
  • 2021
  • Formal change to charity objective and constitution to become fully LGBT+ inclusive
  • Launch of LGBT+ affirmative counselling foundation course
  • Peer Befriending Project and Reclaim (trauma recovery group) launched
  • 2022
  • Shortlisted for Diva Awards and Rainbow Awards
  • Rebranded to elop
  • Search for new premises started
  • 2017: National Diversity Awards, Winner of Community Organization for LGBT
  • 2019: British LGBT Awards, Top 10 LGBT+ Charity
  • 2022: Diva Awards, shortlisted for Charity of the Year
  • 2023: London Borough of Waltham Forest: Special Recognition Award

We have the largest LGBT+ community counselling service in London; in addition to our counselling service we also provide mental health crisis prevention; peer support groups; youth mentoring; befriending; and social groups We also provide consultation and validated training