This is a guest post from Ryan McKendrick, a Youth Representative for The Mix UK, artist, illustrator and photographer.
Eight years ago, when I first came out as transgender, my sister was the first person I told. I remember the feeling of pure terror as I typed the words over text – I was far too scared to actually say them out loud. My hands trembled as I watched the grey dots of doom, it felt she was typing forever. Her response?
“Okay cool, do you want me to call you a different name then?”
She was older than me by 17 months – which she never let me forget – and was always my biggest supporter. It was her who was by my side when I told my family, when I got picked on at school, she was the one who stuck up for me. Two years later, she took her own life at sixteen. Losing her was losing the person who taught me it was ‘cool’ to be my authentic self, the person who was there through the biggest step of my life. She was strong, funny, outspoken, then she was gone.
Over half of LGBTIQ+ people in the UK experience depression, my sister, who identified as LGBTIQ+ herself, was one of them. So many of us experience mental health issues due to discrimination, prejudice, and limited access to healthcare. Yet why aren’t we talking about LGBTIQ+ mental health?
In 2020 I decided to change that, in my sister’s honour I launched Identity in Mind, a magazine speaking to 17 incredible LGBTIQ+ individuals across the UK about mental health in aid of the incredible work that PAPYRUS does. I heard so many stories of bravery, I listened to people who had overcome immense hurdles to be who they are and faced numerous challenges when seeking acceptance. I met others who had channelled their experiences into making a difference, people who created campaigns, spaces, and events to create a future and a community for LGBTIQ+ folk. As LGBTIQ+ people, it is not often we are given the space to share our stories, to share our experiences and actually have people listen. Identity in Mind demanded to be heard.
Identity in Mind made me realise just how many of us have fought for our lives to be where we are right now, but it also revealed an infuriating reality of just how much we are failing our LGBTIQ+ youth. Almost every single participant of Identity in Mind reported receiving inadequate mental health care, many shared experiences of long waiting lists, others shared accounts of facing discrimination in healthcare systems. My sister took her life mere months after being discharged from mental health services, her loss is something which could have retrospectively been prevented.
PAPYRUS believes that many young suicides are preventable. Their work for better suicide prevention strategies saves lives by ensuring consistent support for young people, fighting for the improvement of services, and supporting families like mine who have been bereaved by suicide. I can’t ever bring my sister back but by volunteering for PAPYRUS and raising awareness for mental health, I can help prevent more young people from joining a statistic. Just like my sister taught me, Identity in Mind shows us we need to be outspoken, we need to share our experiences, and we need to fight for the change we want to see for the next generation of LGBTIQ+ youth.
Identity in Mind raised an incredible £225 for PAPYRUS to support the work they do in preventing young people losing their lives to suicide and I hope in doing so I not only made my sister proud but helped PAPYRUS to save lives like her own. I’m so thankful to every individual who shared their story, and everyone who got themselves a copy. But our voices still need to be heard, listen to your LGBTIQ+ friends, let them know it’s ‘cool’ to be who they are.
If you’re aged 35 or under, and experiencing thought of suicide, call HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141, text 07860 039967 or email firstname.lastname@example.org Our suicide prevention advisers are available from 9am to midnight, every day of the year. We are also here for anybody concerned for a young person who might be experiencing thoughts of suicide.
For volunteering opportunities with PAPYRUS, visit: https://www.papyrus-uk.org/volunteer-for-us/