Some moments have become so important throughout history that they change how people think or act. Certain historical moments can even promote a cause that changes the direction of our paths. Sometimes, a course that seeks to end the bigotry and control on so many just for being different can be adjusted for good. Simply being different in religious beliefs, the color of one’s skin, ethnicity, culture, and yes, even sexual identity can determine whether one succeeds in life. They all seem to feed this sense that some of us feel we are better than others just by our differences. In the mental health field, we have struggled with the senseless and horrific stigma that tends to control those living difficult lives. A feeling that is so powerful, leading many to control or place a lesser value on others. This often leads to the horrific mistreatment of people who have a mental illness.
One reflective moment I want to mention occurred in New York City on June 28th, 1969, during the Stonewall Riots—a turbulent time, especially when individuals would express their sexuality. The Stonewall Inn became a focal point, a safe place for them. But tensions rose in Greenwich Village, part of the lower section of Manhattan. It became intolerable for many to deal with the abuse placed on them. Some described homosexuality as a choice and evil. It had no place on the streets of New York or anywhere else, especially in a bar called Stonewall. With tensions getting worse and fights breaking out, a riot ensued. It would be one of many. The conflict resulted in many joining with those who believed all individuals have a right to be who they are and not what others think they should be.
The enormity of this conflict in a little bar called Stonewall would result in people coming together and uniting to fight back against an unjust and cruel ideology—many of the groups we see today represented by LBGTQ+, and more, were built on those battles. Like so many of them and those that would come after, the fight seems never to end, but if one takes the time to see the changes it has brought forth, there have been small progressions. Progressions that lead toward HOPE for a better tomorrow.
Pride Month primarily focuses on celebrating and advocating for the rights and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. While the focus of Pride Month is not directly related to mental illness, there can be connections between the two, especially when combating social stigma and promoting understanding. The LGBTQ+ community and individuals with mental illnesses have historically faced significant social stigma, discrimination, and marginalization, clearly lacking inclusion. By raising awareness and promoting inclusivity, Pride Month helps to challenge societal norms and foster positive regard for marginalized people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or in short, their differences.
The LGBTQ+ community has often suffered mental health disparities due to discrimination, prejudice, and lack of acceptance. This can contribute to higher rates of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, substance misuse, and even suicide.
Pride Month addresses these challenges by providing spaces for individuals to come together, share their experiences, and give access to supportive networking. By promoting acceptance, Pride Month can help create a more inclusive society that recognizes and respects the diversity of human experiences. This broader acceptance can contribute to reducing social stigma, not only for the LGBTQ+ community but also for individuals with mental illnesses. Breaking down stigma and encouraging open dialogue are crucial steps in normalizing conversations around mental health and fostering understanding and empathy.
Moreover, Pride Month and mental health awareness initiatives aim to empower individuals to embrace their authentic selves by fostering self-acceptance and self-worth. By promoting self-acceptance and celebrating diversity, these movements encourage others to be more accepting and compassionate towards others, including those with mental health conditions.
It’s important to note that while Pride Month can help address social stigma and mental health disparities, it should not be seen as a replacement for specific mental health initiatives. It is vital to have dedicated efforts to address mental health stigma, educate the public, and improve access to mental health services for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, skin color, culture, or religion.
As we move on from this month, I am reminded of what we should all pay attention to. Real change comes when we all focus on these important issues and take a day, a week, a month, or even a lifetime to open our hearts and mind to these powerful issues that some individuals live with daily.
In summary, all the support and work we do to come together must happen daily. When we stop speaking out, we take a step back—a step back to a time of darkness for so many. A step back from HOPE.
So, ask the difficult questions and start the conversations. Don’t forget to listen because if you don’t, you may not learn much about yourself and certainly little about others. This is really how we learn from each other, and this is how we build HOPE for everyone.