By Trevor Makonyonga
Issues such as not being accepted, failure to fit in and bullying have long affected queer people living in conservative societies like Zimbabwe that discriminate against sexual and gender diversity.
Bustop TV caught up with key populations mental health activist and counsellor, Atwell Sibanda, who said that the LGBTQI community is highly affected by mental health issues.
Sibanda said, “There are many causes of suicidal tendencies within the LGBTQI community. People suffer from stress due to rejection from community and family. There is also stigma from even society health providers.”
He added, “More causes are, failure to be accepted by family, mockery from community and family, unemployment, blackmailing and generally living in an unsafe environment. Sometimes it goes down to choosing between family and oneself; being me versus what family expects, and also issues to do with relationships like betrayals and discrimination as well as hate speech.”
Sibanda added that the situation is made worse in Zimbabwe by laws that do not support same-sex relations.
“Homosexuality and trans identities are not accepted. There are no structures to support such peers. Government has got no resources or structures and is relying on donors,” Sibanda said.
The LGBTQI activist said that there are high suicidal cases in the country although no study has been done yet.
As a counsellor he sees over 15 cases of queer people struggling with their mental health and at least three suicide attempts in a week with most cases in Victoria Falls, Kadoma, Mutare and Harare.
Sibanda emphasized that some Zimbabwe laws negatively affect LGBTQI people’s mental health.
He said, “Generally it’s difficult for men to talk about their mental health illnesses. Some of the laws forbid same sex marriage. The Constitution [protects] freedom of expression yet the law goes against it for LGBTQI. There is need for a holistic approach. Social economic development is not there for marginalized communities, and there are no structures and systems supporting LGBTQI people.”
Sibanda added, “People who are supposed to be helping others are also going through a lot. There is a gap in mental health awareness and support. Nothing is being done to support those who have been incriminated before. Trans people are threatened and abused because there is lack of information on law and rights. We need to look deep and find alternatives to how best we can mitigate suicidal thoughts, helping the trans community on finding the strength in us and strengthening ourselves as well as working on our weaknesses.”
Sibanda also highlighted police brutality as an issue when it comes to LGBTQI people’s mental health.
He said, “Police brutality and unlawful arrest remains major challenge thereby there is need for awareness on how one should handle police in case of arrest. Let’s not forget that everything starts in the mind. Discovering sexuality, life issues, work, decisions, needs and everything; our mind is the key. Let’s dig deep and fix the gaps.”
‘This article was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of <TrevorMakonyonga/BustopTV> and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union’.