Community Development Health

Mental health challenges affect LGBTIQ+ community in Zimbabwe

Chester Samba leading a discussion

By Clayton Masekesa

MUTARE – For a greater part of his life, John (20) a gay living in Tigers’ Kloof, one of Mutare’s eastern lavish suburbs has been living a marginalized life with no strong support system and he wishes to silently take a sleeping poison and die alone quietly.

When John’s father discovered that his son was gay in 2020 during the height of lockdown, John bore the brunt of extreme discrimination from his father and his family members that including his mother and a young brother.

Failing to accept and handle the endless torment, and verbal and physical abuse, John went into drugs and alcohol as consolation to his troubles and he is now suffering from mental health challenges.

He spent more time in bars and nightclubs, as he avoided going home. He went for days without bathing and when it came to the worst, slept under bridges, backyard streets, and alleys.

His father is an angry man.

“I do not have a son like that. I am no longer his father. I do not accept such behavior in my house. I did not spend money on his education for him to become a gay. I do not tolerate such behavior he is a disgrace,” he said in a recent interview.

John is not alone in this scenario. He is part of other many LGBTIQ+ communities in Zimbabwe who have been viewed and labelled as a disgrace in society.

Sallie a lesbian from Mutare has been abandoned by her family and has been labelled a psychopath.

“They call me a demon and I am causing deaths in the family just because I have disclosed that I am a lesbian. They also call me a psychopath. My life with my family was more of a prison. I have since left my family home and l am living with my friends who understand me and my lesbianism,” said Sallie.

For John his wish is death.

“I do not see why l should continue living. My own father and family have despised me. I have nowhere to run. The next thing I am thinking of is to take poison and die alone quietly,” he said.

John and Sallie are members of the Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe (GALZ) an organization, which strives for the attainment of full and equal human, social and economic rights in all aspects for LGBTQ+.

In a recent interview, GALZ director, Chester Samba, said the mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety, had increased in the LGBTIQ+ community in Zimbabwe.

“This is a very challenging health, social, and development issue affecting people across the country. In reality, no one talks to them they are considered outcasts,” he said.

“The problems community members face are both on individual and group scale including, but not limited to verbal abuse and limited access to health facilities diverted for the Covid-19 national mission,” said Samba.

“There has been a rise in alcohol and substance abuse and loneliness leading to depression. There is also hate speech and social media harassment and this has resulted in some mental challenges,” he said.

The LGBTQ+ community in Zimbabwe has nowhere to run to, as the Zimbabwean government has been persecuting them.

Monica Tabengwa, LGBTQ+ researcher at Human Rights Watch said many LGBTQ+ people were now facing mental challenges.

“It is really important to know that identifying as LGBTQ+ is not a mental illness or disorder. Although being LGBTQ+ is absolutely not a mental illness, many LGBTQ+ people experience mental health struggles. The bisexual and transgender communities have the highest rates of mental health concerns within the LGBTQ+ population. Younger members of the LGBTQ+ community struggle the most with mental health concerns of all the age groups,” she said.

She added that young people within LGBTQ+ communities are more likely to experience challenges with their mental health.

“This is largely due to the oppression and discrimination they may encounter at school, at home, and in their wider community. This suggests that these mental health challenges correlate with factors such as family acceptance and bullying. This indicates that stigma and discrimination, and not being LGBTQ itself, may predict LGBTQ youth mental health difficulties,” said Tabengwa.

While mental health issues are common among LGBTQ+ populations, Samba believes that a person does not have to suffer in silence.

“Some people must have options assisted in getting support. This includes contacting a local organization or business that serves the LGBTQ+ community, “he said.

“We urge members and other people to join LGBTQ+ advocacy and support organizations that can offer reassurance. They can seek help from LGBTQ+ counseling centers, that may be able to connect with resources,” he said.

“Rejection, isolation, bullying, and safety issues can all conspire to make it more difficult for LGBTQ+ youth to feel safe and supported. This can result in mental health issues and may account for the higher rates among those in LGBTQ+ communities,” explained Samba.

He urged the LGBTQ+ community to access online support services or find support networks in their local community that may be able to provide identity-affirming care and support.

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende