Counselling for gay men… not just about HIV! Manchester mental health charities slam services overlooking suicide

By Ben Butler

More than one million vulnerable gay and bisexual men are being let down by counselling services, according to new statistics – and Manchester mental health charities are demanding more support for them.

Britain’s 1.8million gay and bisexual men regularly encounter health services which see sexual health as their only health concern, according to the report from LGBT charity Stonewall.

The revelations come as data from Stonewall also reveals gay and bisexual men are more prone to depression and more likely to commit suicide than the general male population.

Beth Murphy, Head of Information at Manchester Mind, one of 150 local Minds across England and Wales committed to supporting people affected by mental health problems said:  “These new figures from Stonewall echo wider research which shows that people within the LGBT community are at greater risk of developing mental health problems.

“It’s important to acknowledge however that whilst sexuality may be a contributory factor, there are a wide range of social, lifestyle and economic factors that can impact an individual’s mental health.

 “We also campaign to ensure that the funding and services are in place to support the growing demand for mental health services.”

Lucy Rolfe, Wellbeing Manager of Manchester Lesbian Gay Foundation (LGF), said that half of people who had accessed their counselling service have had at least one previous suicide attempt and many currently still experience suicidal thoughts.

Ms Rolfe said: “It’s important we continue to provide these much-needed services to the community.”

The LGF’s mental health and well-being services include counselling, befriending, group work, as well as sexual health services for gay and bisexual men and a woman’s programme.

Three percent of gay men have attempted to take their own life in the last year, compared to 0.4 per cent of all men, and gay and bisexual men are nearly twice as likely as heterosexual men to have severe levels of mixed depression and anxiety.

In a world-leading survey of gay and bisexual men’s health needs, which involved 6861 people from all over the UK, 46% of gay and bisexual men said they’d felt their life was not worth living within the last year.

Meanwhile, 27% of gay men and 38% of bisexual men said they’d considered taking their own life in the last year, even if they wouldn’t do it, compared with just 4% of men in general.

Teenagers are the most vulnerable group, with a startling 10% of gay and bisexual men aged 16 to 19 having attempted to take their own life in the last year.

FS Magazine’s editor Ian Howley, who realised he was gay at the age of 12 and tried to take his own life at 13 after becoming deeply depressed, said on the gay men’s health charity (GMFA) blog, a number of reasons contributed to this.

 They include:  not having anyone to speak to about their feelings, the realisation of being gay, the feeling of getting rejected by friends, family, society and church, and the fear of a future without marriage or children.

GMFA’s Matthew Hodson said on the blog he felt there was still a certain level of discrimination towards the LGBT community.

He said:  “We live in a society which is rapidly moving towards full legal equality for lesbians and gay men, but as the recent debates over gay marriage have established, there are many who would take away these rights, and who are unafraid to voice their disapproval of gay people.”

The blog also found that gay and bisexual men are more likely to turn to drink and drugs as a result of experiencing feelings of hopelessness, whilst an Insight Study found gay and bisexual men are more likely to engage in unsafe sex and catch HIV as a result of low-self-esteem.

Stonewall Media Manager Richard Lane said: “These findings show that hundreds of thousands of gay and bisexual men are in dire need of better support from health professionals and these results should act as a wake up all call for our health services.”

Picture courtesy of Van Der Wel, with thanks.

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