Chief Executive Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England
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LGBTQ mental health

Why L&D holds the key to addressing LGBTQ+ and mental health issues in the workplace


It’s not uncommon for LGBTQ+ people to face the double challenge of mental health issues and discrimination in the workplace, and training has an important role to play in helping organisations to address these issues. This Pride Month is the perfect time for L&D to assess its contribution, argues Simon Blake, Chief Executive of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England.  

4th Jun 2021
Chief Executive Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England
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The workplace can be a challenging environment for someone with a mental health issue for many reasons. Equally, people in the LGBT+ community still experience challenges as a result of prejudice and discrimination at work.

Good training for line managers in diversity and inclusion as well as mental health awareness and skills can tackle the double stigma.

The crossover is rarely surfaced and the ‘double stigma’ not spoken of. So what happens when these two experiences come together? What can we do to ensure we create healthier, more supportive working environments that enable everyone to thrive?

Sexuality in the workplace

As a society we have made great progress on both mental health and LGBT+ issues over the past decade or so, but it is clear there is still much work to do.

There are a number of issues that disproportionately affect LGBT+ people at work. One TUC report found that seven in ten LGBT+ people have been sexually harassed in the workplace, and two-thirds did not report it to their employer. In terms of the overlap, one in six of those affected reported that this harassment had impacted their mental health, and a similar number left their job as a result.

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace

We now know that LGBT+ people are more likely to have a mental health issue. While, on average, one in four people will experience a mental health issue each year, one Stonewall report revealed that over half of LGBT+ people said they’ve experienced depression in 2018-19. One in eight LGBT+ young people (aged 18-24) said they’d attempted to take their own life.

The same research also found that one in eight trans employees said they had been attacked by a colleague or customer at work.

Looking at mental health across the board, Business in the Community reports that only 16% of people feel able to disclose a mental health issue to their line manager.

Overall we are doing better on mental health, and many companies are ‘waking up’ to the issue, yet the stigma in the workplace still remains. This means that many LGBT+ people face a ‘double stigma’ in their employment and will often fear ‘bringing their whole self’ to work.

These numbers highlight why every employer has a responsibility to work harder to create genuinely inclusive and mentally healthy workplaces. This means fostering a culture where people feel safe and comfortable to be open about their sexuality, gender and mental health.

diversity and inclusion hub link

The role of training

There are some simple steps organisations can take to go beyond paying lip service to Pride and mental health campaigns. Practical action to strengthen support for LGBT+ employees experiencing mental ill health is within every employer’s reach. Good training for line managers in diversity and inclusion as well as mental health awareness and skills can tackle the double stigma.

Thinking about these three areas together is so important. That’s why I’m particularly pleased that my organisation, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, has included new statistics on the prevalence of mental ill health among LGBT+ people across all our courses.

Getting the whole company involved

Companies can show their support for LGBT+ employees by supporting the creation of an LGBT+ group for colleagues to get together and support one another. If employers encourage allies to also join the group it helps demonstrate the open and accepting culture in a workplace. Stonewall has more information about effective networks here.

Hosting local events and groups gets the conversation going. At MHFA England we run regular ‘lunch and learn’ sessions inviting speakers with different lived experiences to share their stories. In one, Jules Guaitamacchi, a non-binary activist, spoke about their passion for working towards the inclusion of transgender people within everyday society. We also had Chris Murray, an MHFA England Instructor, hold a session on his lived experience of depression, anxiety and OCD as a member of the LGBT+ community.

These sessions help to foster a culture where people feel comfortable talking about their sexuality or gender. Having Jules discuss their own personal story empowers our employees to ask questions and grow their understanding.

Being and feeling truly inclusive for everyone happens over time, but small steps make a world of difference. For example we encourage staff to include their preferred pronouns, e.g. she/her, or they/their, on their email signatures.

This month, as Pride events take place both in person and online across the country, I urge all employers to reflect on their approaches to both mental health and diversity and inclusion. With hundreds of thousands of LGBT+ people, and their allies, joining these demonstrations, there is no better time to step up and use Pride Month as a springboard for renewed commitment to eradicating both stigma and ‘double stigma’ and continually creating healthier more inclusive workplaces for all. The results will speak for themselves.

Interested in this topic? Read The power of experiential learning in building inclusive organisations.

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