Rethink well-being

Written by Living large in little boxes

Anger is becoming popular, violence valorised and exclusion institutionalised. What’s going on? Why is intolerance becoming cool? Is Bangladesh tired of being tolerant?

Marginalization happens. And it often affects those with differences. Research shows that LGB people have higher rates of mental health challenges than the general population. LGB people often struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma and self-acceptance as a result of facing ongoing discrimination over their lifetimes. LGB youth are about three to four times as likely to attempt suicide as their peers.

There is evidence that these higher rates of mental health challenges are due to heightened and long-term exposure of LGB people to societal and institutional prejudice and discrimination. There are many similarities in the effects of discrimination and how people respond to and cope with stress directly related to prejudice. It’s important to remember, however, that not all LGB people have lived the same experiences, and that people respond to similar experiences in different ways.

LGB people unquestionably experience long-term stress related to their sexual orientation or gender identity. They often internalize the negative messages about being different. These messages become beliefs that can fester and develop into two struggles: shame about who they are and what they feel, and guilt about what they do.

Through repeated negative experiences as children and teens, LGB people learn to anticipate and expect rejection and judgment from their families, peers and communities. These young people come to understand that they are different from what is considered normal. LGB people are often met with rejection and violence within their own families.

Living with these various challenges to their emotional well-being can foster anxiety over rejection and abandonment. Withdrawing from a culture that threatens their safety and lives is viewed by some LGB people as a safer option. However, isolation due to lack of a supportive family or community of peers can compound struggles with depression.

In the not-too-distant past, even the medical community added to the emotional and physical risks to LGB people. Before 1973, homosexuality was labeled a mental disorder and many individuals experienced prejudice and judgment from those who were supposed to help. While the situation for LGB folks has improved over the past few decades, many are still dealing with the effects of societal discrimination experienced during their lifetimes.

We all know by now the emotional and psychological costs of stress on the lives of gender, sexuality and relationship diverse people. The elevated rates of depression and self-harm and substance abuse, and anxiety and other major mental health problems.

Being a human can be a messy, hard, confusing, painful experience sometimes. These days the Internet is crowded with self-care tips ranging from herbal tea to coloring books, with no shortage of recipes and instructions on how to renew, relax, and rejuvenate. And I’m happy for you if you can afford to take a weekend vacation when you get overwhelmed. But what’s the cost of self-care?

For the person struggling to pay rent each month, a trip to the spa might not be an option. For the person living with depression whose groceries depend on his two jobs, defining self-care as taking a personal day off to treat yourself isn’t going to help.

“Each morning I sit down to write out everything in a piece of white paper that happens to be in my brain. It is a self-care practice to reduce my anxiety and  stress. By taking all the tasks and worries and considerations out of my head and putting them onto paper, I relieve some of the mental pressure that leads to increased stress. ”

I can’t tell you how many times ‘exercise’ has been offered as mental health medicine. That should come as no surprise, as the endorphins that come with exercise have been associated with all sorts of psychological benefits.

Demanding people to treat you with respect is self-care. Listening to your favorite song on your commute to work is self-care. Even posting a selfie on Facebook can be self-care. It isn’t always relaxing and lavender-scented.

Self-care might take courage. It might take trust. It might be congratulating yourself for making an anxious phone call, or protesting for the rights you know you deserve, or crying into your pillow at the end of a long day.

“When I go through a tuff time, the last thing I care about is my health and wellness. I want to stay in bed all day, pull the covers over my head, turn the light out and retreat from all responsibilities.” It’s hard to find energy to do the simple things and it’s so much easier to say, “Forget it. It’s not that dirty.” Washing face is refreshing and oddly enough, gives the sense we can actually get through the day.

It’s easy to skip meals and get dehydrated when you are depressed. You don’t have the motivation to cook or go to the grocery store. Even if you are having trouble with meals, you can commit to drink a tall glass of water in the morning to quench your thirst and keep all of your organs happy. Studies show water actually reduces fatigue, flushes out toxins and improves mood — all things you desperately need in the throes of depression.

For me, stress and anxiety can be greatly enhanced by the constant dinging of my phone. Can you do this? Or did you see this? Constantly fill my text messages, inbox and Facebook. Shutting down for a little bit and enjoying a moment of peace can relieve tension and reduce some feelings of anxiety.

Maybe it feels like I have nothing to smile about because my depression is so acute and severe. But you do have the ability to use your face muscles to force a smile. Even forced, a smile produces endorphins which elevate mood. You can make it a practice to force a smile at least 10 times a day. And if it’s real, all the better!

“I think that craft can help people with mental health problems because it’s a distraction, but it’s also meditative – with every stitch you can let your thoughts go. I hope other people are inspired to have a go at crafting, whatever that may be, because for whatever reason you do it, craft is a great way to relax and create something beautiful too.”

I strongly believe that we need to continue to build community, celebrate diversity and be kind to each other and if someone is a bit more full-on or different than we are when we see them in the street, perhaps we can smile and wink and celebrate our differences and our similarities.

Boys of Bangladesh (BoB) offers opportunities for LGB people to meet up in safe spaces within Bangladesh.  There is also the option to have one to one sessions with a trained counsellor.  For more information email us


  1. Fergusson, D.M., Horwood, J.L. & Beautrais, A.L. (1999). Is sexual orientation related to mental health problems and suicidality in young people? Archives of General Psychiatry, 56(10), 876-880.
  2. Neisen, J.H. (1993). Healing from cultural victimization: Recovery from shame due to heterosexism. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, 2(1), 49-63.
  3. Bradford, J., Ryan, C. & Rothblum, E.D. (1994). National lesbian health care survey: Implications for mental health care. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62(2), 228-242.
  4. Drescher, J. & Merlino, J.P. (Eds.). (2007). American psychiatry and homosexuality: An oral history. Binghamton, New York: Haworth Press.

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