The importance of social networks for a healthy identity

There has been much in the papers recently around the issues of diversity and inclusion, what with LGBT Pride upon us. Indeed, we seem to have moved beyond LGBT and LGBTQ to LGBT+ in recognition of the trans and non-binary communities.


This reminded me of an article I had previously written The 5 benefits of equality and diversity for your business. The thrust of the article was very non-specific to any one identity or grouping and more focussed on the key benefits diversity in general bring to businesses.


However, alongside all the great things being written to accompany Pride are the less well known and reported facts around the social factors that can cause stress for those very groups.


While life has undoubtedly gotten better for many LGBT+ people in the West there is a growing recognition that many more LGBT+ people experience worse health related issues than their non-LGBT+ peers, particularly in relation to mental health, which can then impact significantly on peoples life’s and businesses.


I wrote an article last week The 4 Stages to Managing a Midlife Crisis. In that article I noted that some signs of a midlife crisis might be drinking a bit too much, or working a bit too hard, or turning to soft (or hard) porn, especially in conjunction with finding you are never off your computer. These could just as easily relate to sections of the LGBT+ community.


Alcohol consumption, for instance, is a perennial issue for LGBT+ people.


Why might that be?


For all the strides LGBT+ community have made in terms of equality there are still many stressors in the lives of individual LGBT+ people in the varied forms of homophobia, discrimination and violence (at various levels of intensity).


These stressors are generally recognised to include:

  • for some, feeling like they are, and are seen as, belonging to a despised minority (whether that is being the butt of a joke at work or being attacked in the press or on social media),
  • and so the need to hide your identity (to keep the job or so as not to experience overt harassment and discrimination),
  • and through the whole issue of coming out to family, friends and work colleagues (often having to do this repeatedly when changing jobs, getting promoted or meeting new people),
  • and with a greater likelihood of loss of family and community support (once you have come out or are found out),
  • which in turn can result in a non-acceptance of the self, and so a sense of confusion around your sexual orientation or gender identity, or internalised homophobia,
  • which in turn can lead to lowered self-esteem, anxiety and feelings of guilt, through to depression and paranoia.


Much of this is compounded by the fact that gay bars form a major part of socialising (and indeed in some rural areas in particular going to the nearest city gay bar may be the only social or community engagement some LGBT+ people get, due to geographical setting and digital blackspots).


This can lead to many LGBT+ people becoming habitual and heavy drinkers. And while this is an area that is as yet under-researched, there is a growing acceptance that LGBT+ people are at risk. Indeed, a recent study by Alison Coulter around the Effects of personalised care planning for people with long-term conditions suggest that heavy drinking is even higher for transgender people and is more likely to have an impact on higher risk of suicide.


None of this is going to support a healthy life or a successful and fulfilled career, and can have significant impact on your life, your family and friends and for business. As Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, noted in a 2013 tweet Workplace Equality Is Good for Business, Long before I started work as the CEO of Apple, I became aware of a fundamental truth: People are much more willing to give of themselves when they feel that their selves are being fully recognized and embraced.”


Bringing it all together


To be healthy and resilient there is a need for a good circle of friends, our key social network that offers support, positivity and hope. Just as business networks do in their arena. However, for these networks to truly offer these things it is important they do not dictate a culture that stands at odds with their own intent. There needs to be space for a healthy lifestyle, for inclusion and participation that enables self and creative expression, and for growth.


We need positive and productive cultures that truly value diversity, for the LGBT+ community is not made up of a homogenous group, but are diverse, overlapping, multifaceted individuals (just like any other group).



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