The moment of realisation that you may be gay as well the "coming out period" can have a profound effect on your mental health.
Recently, we saw members of the Royal family going public and encouraging everyone to talk about mental health issues in order to raise awareness & get help and support. *1. And they are right.
Yet strangely, talking about the fact that you may think you are attracted to someone of the same gender as a young person can feel like one of the most confusing, daunting, yet necessary things you will need to do in order to come to terms, understand and validate your feelings.
There can be a feeling of shame, especially if you are from a faith background or from a country, culture or community that disapproves of homosexuality.
As a young person, I always felt different to my peers (and I was in many ways, beyond my sexuality). I was a gangly, tomboyish black girl living in the rural countryside in conservative 90's Britain. Coupled with being a sensitive and thoughtful young person, I faced inevitable anxieties and low mood beyond the regular ups and downs of teenage emotions. When I had my "aha moment" about my sexuality, managing my emotions were challenging to a whole new level.
I had not even realised I could be a lesbian by the time I reached six form. I was not really conscious about my attraction to other girls even though I believe it has been with me since I was an infant. However, I did witness several girls who were brave enough to come out at school. The result of their brave actions was met with them being visibly ignored and verbally ostracised with public shouts and moans of disgust by our peers. One girl was an artist like me, and she had painted gay icons Madonna and KD Lang on a group school mural - this resulted in the school asking for her work to be painted over as It would give a "wrong impression" and was seen as overtly sexual. As I witnessed these events I stayed in silence dispute disapproving of the injustice.
While I was nervous about who I was before I had witnessed this happen, despite not knowing that my crush on a female student in the year above me was actually not a desire for friendship but attraction, I was being given a message that who I was at the core was wrong.
My new peers at Art College began dropping hints because they had noticed that my sexuality was in question. The pressure became immense and not being able to talk about this to someone left me hurting and hating myself inside. I ended up self-harming and it was only then that my family realised. What I could not vocalise, they had to witness visibly - that I was hurting inside and I needed some support and release.
Months later, while I was at University, the charity London Friend was a HUGE turning point for me alongside a new city and support from my family, friends and people I could genuinely trust. That friendly voice on the London Friend helpline told me that to learn to understand your sexuality you need to be in touch with “how you feel inside". They emphasised that it's the feeling of love, how someone makes you feel inside, not just bodily attraction. And when that pattern is consistent that's when you know. And that's when I was certain.
Understanding the "true you" inside is a great way of guiding your life in general. And despite the many other challenges beyond initially "coming out" (which is something you have to several times in your life) it was the genuine and understanding and support from the charity, London Friend, family and close friends of all sexualities, that has kept me going.
Young people's mental health is a prevalent concern right now (According to Rethink and Young Minds, mental health difficulties now affect 1 in 10 young people). *2. Therefore, it is so important that we share our stories with young people to let them know that there is support out there for them and that there are people who accept them for who they truly are.
I love the ground-breaking work of Diversity Role Models and their collaboration with schools. By becoming a Diversity role model I can actively support young people in the hope that they will never have to feel the way some of my peers and I did at school. "
*1. "It takes real courage to speak out about mental health. Let Prince Harry encourage many others". -Telegraph 16th of April 2017
*2. Children and young people- The Mental Health Foundation.