Church of Ireland Gazette: Suicide among gay people

As the Director of Cara- Friend, an LGBT mental health organisation, it was with particular interest that I noted the recent letters of the Revd Andrew Rawding and the Revd Patrick Burke (Gazette, 8th and 22nd November).

In May 2013, I gave a presentation to a well attended fringe meeting of the Church of Ireland General Synod in Armagh which discussed the particular evidence for Church influenced poor mental health amongst many LGBT people.

The statistics are disturbing for our young people and for those of us charged with positions of leadership. Young people who identify as LGBT are at least 2.5 times more likely to self-harm, five times more likely to be medicated for depression and at least three times more likely to attempt suicide, than their heterosexual counterparts. Bountiful research is published and available on request.

The primary factors influencing LGBT mental health are homophobia, homo-negative statements from authority figures within the family, Church and political establishments, and invisibility due to fear of discrimination.

Different ways of approaching difficult issues within the Church environment can lead to either experiences that are destructive to the mental health of LGBT people or experiences which acknowledge difference and affirm people as human beings of worth and value. Dr Rowan Williams said of LGBT people within the Church in 2012 that “there is a hangover from the feeling that you are condemned in your entirety for what you are doing, for what you are. If people are getting the message that they are condemned for what they are, then of course there is a serious mental health impact”.

Cara-Friend provides the only specialist counselling service for young LGBT people aged 14 to 25 years old in Northern Ireland, and many every year who suffer depression, isolation and suicide ideation cite their experience with the Church as a contributing factor. Yet I could not find one single young LGBT Christian to attend General Synod with me and talk about a positive experience of the Church.

Many of the young LGBT Christians we work with believe they are fundamentally abominable in the eyes of God for who they are and for their very existence, and those who have ‘come out’ often feel shunned by their Church. Cara-friend would certainly be delighted to work with the Church to produce a piece of research specifically investigating this issue further.

Steve Williamson
Director, Cara-Friend
9-13 Waring Street