Issues in Queer Mental Healthcare in an Indian Context: Ageing, Substance Abuse and Access

Session Report
Narayani Bhatnagar

In celebration of pride month, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, in association with Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), initiated  An Online International Summer School Program | A Five-Day Immersive Online Certificate Training Course on Beyond Binaries: Understanding Sexual Identities and Queer Rights Issues in India.

Day three of this riveting programme was led by Adhiraj Parthasarthy, an Independent Policy Consultant.

Mr Parthasarthy’s presentation aimed at unpacking LGBTQIA+ Mental Health in India: Its themes, research and policy interventions. He started the discussion while discussing an excerpt from Shakuntala Devi’s book, which is also known as the math wizard. Where she interviews a group of homosexual men who share their experiences of coming out, and it is set in the 70s.

Health concerns and challenges of LGBTQIA+

He stated that the LGBTQIA+ population groups in India are diverse, with each component having its own set of unique health concerns and challenges. The majority of South Asian research focuses on SMM/MSMs, clinical and public health words that do not always correspond to homosexual. Transgender people have extra mental health issues that are not shared by SMMs/MSMs.

There is little data on the mental health, well-being, and concerns of sexual minority women, and research on genderqueer, non-binary, and other identities is scarce to non-existent. It will mostly address challenges confronting Cis homosexual and bisexual males, as well as transgender individuals.

The current status of mental health crises in LGBTQIA+ populations in India indicates the prevalence of depression (moderate and severe), anxiety, and mood disorders is much greater in LGBT groups in India than in the overall population. As many as 52% of MSMS in India had some mental illness, with more than 12% experiencing severe depression in the previous twelve months.

Transgender adolescents had the greatest prevalence of suicidal thoughts of any population group in India, with one in every three reporting a suicide attempt in the previous twelve months. Frequent alcohol consumption is estimated to be 17-20% in MSMs and up to 40% in Transgenders, with recreational polysubstance use exceeding 9%. LGBT people have much lower results than the general population on almost every metric of well-being and mental health. However, LGBT people are far less likely to use mental health services or seek therapy of any type.

He emphasised that the Minority Stress Model contributes to understanding the causes of the high incidence of mental health issues among LGBT groups. It distinguishes between distal stressors such as discrimination and proximal stressors such as homophobia. Problems that are frequently encountered, they ranged from, real or imagined stigma to Marriage and child-rearing expectations in society/pressure to marry.

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Looking at the dimensions of LGBT life through the lens of the Indian context, three out of every four LGBT individuals still feel that their identity should be kept hidden. Over half of MSMS are married heterosexually (as are up to three-quarters of self-identified bisexual males).

Greater acceptance outcomes for homosexual men and MSMs are especially with female family members, and contact with well-adjusted role models or peers. It is familial acceptance and a stable intimate partner relationship for lesbians and sexual minority women. For transgender people, higher education levels and acceptance by family (particularly siblings) are important.

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He proceeded to discuss the changes brought in the last two decades. Some things have improved in addition to decriminalisation. The average age of homosexual males coming out is currently 19 years, and more gay men are coming out earlier in life. The ease with which one may discover a community and intimate partners- There were no dating websites twenty years ago.

Greater media exposure and visibility, as well as improved awareness. Changing attitudes in the medical and psychiatric fields, and the rise of role models. Mr. Parthasathy concluded his presentation by discussing the way forward. Towards our way forward, we catch sight of a sizable group of older LGBT people who are not in cis and heterosexual partnerships forming.

As the world’s population ages, new and unexpected requirements develop and this population is also far less likely to receive mental health therapy but over the years, attitudes towards elderly LGBT people in the community have shifted dramatically.

Read more session reports from Day 3 of Beyond Binaries: Understanding Sexual Identities and Queer Rights Issues in India:

Transformation required from Homo Economicus to Homo Ethicus.

Queer Marxism.

Attempting to measure sex, gender and sexual identities in varying contexts including Research.