I wish it were not the case, but LGBT+ communities are struggling with a mental health crisis of epidemic proportions. 40% of our community are affected by mental health conditions – compared to 25% of the wider to population. These conditions can affect our ability to work, to form relationships and, in too many cases, increase the risk of suicide.
Yet, we still aren't talking about it. We aren't listening about it. There is still a massive taboo surrounding mental health – and given the challenges we have faced and are still facing as a result of our sexualities and gender identities – it is yet one more hurdle to overcome.
Speaking personally, coming out as living with a treatment-resistant form of depression was just as hard as coming out as gay. It required another set of difficult conversations. It required finding the courage to risk rejection – again. It required strength right at the time, as you are living with a condition that makes finding those resources all the more difficult.
By being more open about living with my depression, I made things easier for myself. I am more confident in championing my own needs and standing up for what will help me. I am also more able to help support others who need to find the strength to carry on in their own battles.
One of the ways I am doing this is by working as a Mental Health Champion within the Volunteer Engagement Team at Pride in London. I want to help to make sure that well-being is at the heart of our decision-making processes and develop ways that we can support ourselves and other members of our Pride family.
Another way I carry on this work is by volunteering for SHOUT – a new text-based crisis support service that launched last week in the UK. It is based on the Crisis Text Line in the US and is a 24/7 service to help people when they are in crisis. All texts are free and you are connected within minutes to a trained volunteer who will listen and find way to support you through this moment of crisis to a safer, happier place.
We have a special link up for all Pride in London volunteers. If you are in a crisis, and it doesn't matter whether that is work, personal, domestic, health-related or any other situation, you can text PRIDE to 85258, day or night and someone will be there to support you.
Of course, we hope that you will never be in a place where you need to reach out for help – but the offer is always there. I know from my own volunteering experience that this is a life-saving service. This service can help to save the lives of people in crisis on a daily basis. It is helping people find their own ways through those difficult times – building on their own strengths and developing their resilience.
As a volunteer with SHOUT, I have made a commitment to give at least 200 hours to the service – and after a little over 6 months, I am already within touching distance of that goal. I was provided with excellent training and there is ongoing support from experts whenever I was supporting others. It is all done from the comfort of my own home at times that suit me. If this is something that you might like to do, I would be happy to talk to you in more detail. It isn't easy at times, but it is intensely rewarding knowing you are making a difference.
We need to look after ourselves before we can look after others and self-care is a vital part of this. Taking a few minutes each day to recharge our batteries will ensure that we are in a better place to help those around us. That is so true for all Pride in London volunteers – we each have busy lives and are giving our time to deliver a huge event for more than a million people. The pressure can be intense – and so taking time to look after yourself is important.
There is no shame in reaching out for support. It is not a sign of weakness and if you ever hear otherwise, ignore those voices. It takes courage to say that you need extra support, you should never struggle in silence – there is always someone who can be there for you.
We all need to look out for other members of our team. Check in with your colleagues and make sure they are ok. It only takes a few seconds, but that is time well spent. If someone says that things aren't great, take the time to listen and hear what they say.
If we support one another, we can make our volunteering experience even more rewarding. We do amazing things through our individual and collective endeavours on behalf of Pride in London. What the core team deliver year round is often beyond the comprehension of those who don't realise what goes on behind the scenes. This including our On the Day volunteers, who do an amazing job in making the big day possible.
Ensuring all of our volunteers have the best possible experience is what the Volunteer Engagement team is there for. Myself and my colleagues will continue to advocate for your well-being. And with SHOUT, we have access to the amazing support for those crisis moments.
Look after yourself, look after your friends, family and colleagues – and together we can have a fantastic 2019 Pride season.