Pride and mental health with Jonny Benjamin MBE: 5 things we learned
Earlier this month as part of The Marketing Store’s summer of Pride celebrations, I was lucky enough to not only spend some time in our London office after 14 long months of remote working, but also to sit down for a ‘fireside chat’ with the inspirational Jonny Benjamin MBE.
Jonny is an award-winning mental health campaigner, film producer, public speaker, writer and vlogger, as well as a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community. At the age of 20 he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and depression, and now speaks and writes publicly about living with mental illness to help educate people and break the stigma surrounding it. He has written two hugely successful books and also produced and presented documentaries on BBC Three and Channel 4 on the subjects of mental health and suicide. Jonny is also the founder of youth mental health charity, Beyond.
Here are 5 key takeaways from our chat:
1. The LGBTQ+ community faces far greater challenges with mental health than the rest of the population. Based on recent reports by Stonewall and the Mental Health Foundation, roughly 61% of LGBTQ+ people in the UK suffer from anxiety and/or depression compared to roughly 20% of the overall population—that’s three times as likely. There may be a number of factors behind this, but a major one is the discrimination and rejection that LGBTQ+ people face from a young age. Ranging from outright violence and abuse to day-to-day seemingly innocent microaggressions, homophobia and transphobia are still prevalent and ingrained in society. Evidence of this is that roughly 50% of LGBTQ+ people in the UK don’t feel comfortable or safe discussing their sexuality at home, often affected by their families’ religious beliefs or political standing.
2. With half of the community feeling like they can’t be their true selves at home comes a sober reminder of the importance of Pride celebrations; to empower a community and grant a sense of belonging many of us have too often lacked. Sadly, Pride celebrations don’t mean that equality has been achieved. The Queer community’s problems don’t go away for the month of June, many may be watching from the closet, feeling even more isolated by being unable to take part or in graver danger with the increased attention. Further action at political, institutional, and societal level is needed; no one is equal until we are all equal. And remember, this data focuses on the UK, around the world LGBTQ+ people face murder, incarceration, and at best, are granted lesser rights by those in power. Progress has undoubtedly been made, but there is a long way to go.
3. The difficulties faced by Queer people don’t stop after coming out and openly becoming part of the LGBTQ+ community—some never feel welcome in it. There are big challenges with internalised homophobia and transphobia from within the community. Unfortunately, as with the rest of society, they are ingrained in our up-bringing and culture and it takes vulnerability to accept them and more so to challenge them. There’s rejection of men who are too ‘fem’, disregarding Bi members as ‘transitioning to gay’, stereotyping Queer women, and not supporting Trans, Non-binary and Intersex members. Racism is also an enormous problem, with minorities being discriminated against or fetichised, creating marginalised sub-groups within an already marginalised group. Looks become far too important, giving way to body image becoming a big stressor and leaving the door open to toxic habits or disorders that feed vicious cycles of jealousy and low self-esteem. The discrimination we’ve faced throughout our lives hasn’t been easy, and it has made us become very hard on ourselves, so the first step to start healing is through learning and practising self-compassion. As a Queer icon always says: ‘If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?’
4. Despite the big challenges explored above, Pride carries that name because for so many of us, being Queer is something we’d never change and which we are truly proud of. Our experiences have made us stronger, more resilient. Our suffering has made us more caring and empathetic. We are brave and we are sensitive, we have all the tools to change the world for the better, particularly when we stand together and in support of fellow minority groups.
5. So what can The Marketing Store learn from Pride this year? This year we’ve seen considerable public backlash towards big corporations who tokenise the Rainbow to drive sales. Support and allyship should be represented in an organisation’s core values, showing a commitment to and championing diversity and inclusion year-round. Having learnt of the mental health challenges within the LGBTQ+ community, implementing a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plant) will normalise mental health and better empower Queer employees, and all employees for that matter, to bring out those fantastic attributes whilst they feel they are supported and embraced instead of judged. As for individual colleagues, the first step in being an ally is understanding and educating yourself about the LGBTQ+ community. If there’s something you don’t understand or are unfamiliar with, ask; as long as it’s done from a place of love and done with sensitivity, Queer people will be happy to share their story and perspective with you.