How do we change our MENtality? Intersectionality and identities.

By Billy Newhall 

The first time that I learned about intersectionality was during a podcast episode that I was producing earlier this year. The podcast was Changing MENtality, a series created and hosted by a group of male university students that discusses personal experiences to help eliminate stigma, raise awareness, and have conversations about men’s mental health. 

This episode explored some of the specific challenges and pressures that affect students who, like me, are both male and LGBTQ+. Once I started researching, I began to realise just how intertwined our mental health can be with our identities. What I learned from the discussion was that our identities and the social groups that we belong to can play an important role in our well-being. 

What is Intersectionality and why are Identities Important? 

  • Intersectionality is a way of thinking about mental health through our different identities. 
  • An identity is a feature or characteristic that is the same or similar for a group of people. Examples of identities include:
  • Sexual orientation 
  • Gender identity
  • Race
  • Class

Typically, within any identity label, there are numerous smaller sub-groups and further identities that can be used to relate groups of people even closer together. Intersectionality considers how identities can affect and impact our mental health, as well as how our different identities can overlap and create unique challenges.   

Discrimination and Prejudice

People with shared identities often have similar experiences. For example, members of the LGBTQ+ community may be faced with discrimination and prejudice relating to their identities such as homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. These forms of discrimination uniquely affect people who identify as LGBTQ+ and are not experienced by other people in the general population. 

Discrimination and prejudice can have ramifications for mental health and how people find support for their wellbeing. For instance, LGBTQ+ students are often more likely to look for support from other LGBTQ+ individuals and LGBTQ+ groups than from more generalised student services.

Gender Identity

Another example of an identity that has shared experiences is gender identity. Men are challenged with traditional ideas surrounding masculinity and male gender roles. Traditional ideas about men having to be tough and unemotional can impact men’s mental health as it acts as a barrier that prevents and discourages men from reaching out and accessing effective mental health support. 

Many challenges and pressures exist for identities that can be unique disadvantages and aren’t experienced by people outside of those groups. 

Intersectionality points out that our identities can be associated with mental health pressures. Importantly, intersectionality also considers that:

  • People don’t belong to just a single social group or identity. 
  • We can belong to multiple groups and have many different identities. 

Intersectionality encourages us to think about our identities and the challenges that affect vulnerable groups to help us better understand how to support and encourage positive wellbeing.

How can intersectionality benefit mental health? 

Understanding mental health pressures and challenges are crucial for positive wellbeing. Everybody has mental health. However, not everybody experiences mental health in the same ways. This is where thinking about mental health through an intersectional approach can be incredibly valuable. 

Intersectionality doesn’t mean that every individual in a particular social group will experience the same challenges nor encounter them in the same way. It encourages us to identify and better understand the challenges that certain groups could face. Understanding this is valuable as it allows for better and more effective support to be put in place that safeguards and protects vulnerable groups. 

What does intersectionality look like in practice? 

Intersectionality is about being inclusive. For instance, wellbeing services that are created to support the general population may not be as well equipped for the unique challenges that affect members of minority groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community. This doesn’t mean that these services aren’t suitable for others. There may be other specific and more effective ways to support LGBTQ+ people that are more tailored towards their wellbeing needs. 

  • Designing interventions that target men and that consider the unique ways in which they experience mental health struggles can have great benefits. 

Support systems tailored towards further specific sub-groups can be beneficial:

  • Support groups or wellbeing resources that are tailored specifically towards men who identify as LGBTQ+. 
  • Support services that understand the unique challenges faced by one or multiple identities can have powerful benefits for those who access them.
  • Members of these groups can feel more comfortable accessing mental health support in this way. 

How understanding intersectionality has helped me

Understanding mental health can be complicated. Whilst our mental health is highly unique and personal, there are many shared challenges and experiences that can connect us to those around us. Understanding our own wellbeing can be easier when there are people and support around us that understand the challenges that we have faced. 

When I was struggling with my own mental health at university, I made the decision to attend therapy. I was worried before my first session but quickly realised that my therapist also identified as LGBTQ+. They began to relate to and understand many of the experiences and challenges that I’d faced. 

I realised that my mental health didn’t exist as a separate part of me and was actually intertwined with many of my identities. Understanding this had great benefits for my mental health and helped me to feel less isolated by normalising many of the issues I was struggling with.

Overall, identifying as male and LGBTQ+ highlighted to me that intersectionality can play an important role in mental health and wellbeing. 

  • Understanding our identities and the challenges that are linked to them are valuable for promoting positive wellbeing. 
  • We all have many combinations of different, unique and overlapping identities. 
  • The better we understand different identities, the better equipped we can be to maintain positive mental health and provide effective and meaningful support. 

If you’re interested in hearing more about intersectionality and the experiences of LGBTQ+ men, listen to the episode Intersectionality, LGBTQ+ and Mental Health from the ChangingMENtality podcast. The episode goes into more detail about some of the research that has been done around intersectionality and the benefits of recognising its role in mental health. 

About the author of this blog

 

Billy Newhall is a recent MSc graduate from the University of Manchester and a volunteer podcast producer for the ChangingMENtality podcast. Since the launch of the podcast, the ChangingMENtality team have published 27 episodes that have featured conversations, stories and interviews on a variety of topics surrounding men’s mental health. The podcast is hosted by a group of male students, sharing their own experiences to help eliminate stigma, raise awareness and signpost others to find the help they need. 

Useful resources

Services that are designed especially for LGBTQ+ students: 

For more information on men’s mental health topics, listen to the Changing MENtality podcast:

For more information on LGBTQ+ student mental health research visit:

Links to student support services:

  • Student Space – Online, one-stop shop’ for students in England and Wales who want to find help for their mental health or well-being.
  • Student Minds website – Information about different support services available, including how to find them and what to expect when using them for the first time.
  • Samaritans – Phone 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org
  • HOPELine UK – Phone 0800 068 41 41: confidential service specifically for young people (under 35). They can offer crisis support for someone who is experiencing thoughts or feelings of suicide, and provide information and advice for those concerned about someone else.
  • Papyrus – Email pat@papyrus.uk.org
  • Students Against Depression – The Students Against Depression website has lots of information about tackling depression and low mood, including self-help resources and workbooks for students to work through to start taking steps towards tackling low mood.

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