MIND MAT­TERS

MEN­TAL HEALTH IS AN IS­SUE FOR MANY LGBT PEO­PLE. CRAIG STORRIE IN­VES­TI­GATES SOME OF THE REA­SONS BE­HIND IT

Pride Life Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Cop­ing with de­pres­sion on the gay scene

Out of all the sit­u­a­tions that arise from dis­cov­er­ing that you’re gay, com­ing out can be one of the most trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences for many peo­ple. It’s also one of the things nearly ev­ery­one who dis­cov­ers that they are LGBT has to ex­pe­ri­ence at some point in their lives, be it to one or more peo­ple. Many gay peo­ple have ex­pe­ri­enced a num­ber of prob­lems such as re­jec­tion from the peo­ple they care about, dis­crim­i­na­tion from so­ci­ety at large and a dan­ger of vi­o­lence and ha­rass­ment from fam­ily, friends, work mates and even strangers. Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing th­ese is­sues and other prob­lems has un­der­stand­ably led to wor­ry­ingly high rates of men­tal health and self-harm prob­lems amongst gay peo­ple.

In fact, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral stud­ies taken place since 2001 by Susan Cochran, PhD, an epi­demi­ol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, the rates of de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and even sui­cide are wor­ry­ingly far higher in gay men, than among their straight male coun­ter­parts. This in turn leads twice as many LGBT peo­ple to seek help from men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als, ac­cord­ing to a UCLA study taken back in 2009. Even just dis­cov­er­ing that you are LGBT can cause lots of peo­ple to freefall into self-de­struc­tive be­hav­iour that can in­clude sub­stance abuse, both phys­i­cal and men­tal self­harm, and even sex ad­dic­tion.

To some naïve peo­ple out there this might not seem far-fetched. If we were only to go off how the me­dia por­trays LGBT peo­ple then we all seem like a zany, fun and overly camp bunch who have lots of sex and take lots of drugs. All that sub­stance abuse is bound to make any­one go off the deep end sooner or later!

Even worse is the fact there is still a huge amount of peo­ple out there who cling to the belief that ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is a choice and does noth­ing but sicken our minds, leav­ing us wide open to a range of other men­tal health is­sues such as de­pres­sion, eat­ing dis­or­ders and bi po­lar. The find­ings from the afore­men­tioned UCLA study will only add fuel to that fire as it doesn’t di­vulge the range of men­tal health is­sues that gays seek help for.

To get a clearer view of how the gay scene can af­fect a per­son’s men­tal health I asked a health­care pro­fes­sional for his view on the sub­ject. Joel Ben­nett is a pro­fes­sional coun­sel­lor work­ing in both the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tor and feels that how peo­ple view the gay scene de­pends to­tally on their per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences.

“To some the scene can be an ex­tended fam­ily and a place of be­long­ing, whereas to oth­ers it may be a place of forced ex­pec­ta­tions and dis­il­lu­sion­ment,” he says. “Many LGBT in­di­vid­u­als may have ex­pe­ri­enced prej­u­dice and op­po­si­tion through­out their lives, es­pe­cially dur­ing the tran­si­tion of ‘com­ing out’. As hu­man be­ings, ul­ti­mately we are pack an­i­mals, we like to be to­gether and sur­vive to­gether de­spite some­times it feel­ing the op­po­site.

“For many the scene can of­fer them just that, a place to cel­e­brate who they are, share with like­minded peo­ple and feel at ease with their iden­tity. How­ever, for many it may feel a fur­ther seg­re­ga­tion and a need to fit into a group they don’t feel they be­long to.”

Ben­nett agrees that there are “ex­pec­ta­tions on ap­pear­ance, both physique and dress sense, ex­pec­ta­tions on who we as­so­ciate with, what mu­sic we lis­ten to, etc. There may even be pres­sure for some to fit within a cer­tain group, i.e. from a gay man’s per­spec­tive – a bear, a twink, an ot­ter, cub, etc. What if some­one feels they do not fit into any of th­ese cat­e­gories? They may find them­selves be­ing lesser than, or not as ac­cept­able as, oth­ers.”

Whilst there many peo­ple out there who feel seg­re­gated and not part of a larger com­mu­nity, Joel be­lieves that the ex­pe­ri­ences that can come from be­ing on the scene will vary from per­son to per­son.

“Some scenes may cater for a wider va­ri­ety of tastes, in­ter­ests and pas­sions in which an in­di­vid­ual can find their own place to fit in,” he says.

Joel ex­plains that if you want to be part of the gay scene then “the most im­por­tant thing is to find a scene that best fits your own style, and sense of in­ter­est: ba­si­cally some­where where you feel safe, free and in­cluded.”

To bring this sit­u­a­tion closer to home I sought out some peo­ple who are both on the LGBT spec­trum and iden­tify them­selves as hav­ing men­tal health prob­lems and asked them the same ques­tion: “How do you feel about the gay scene and does it help or hin­der your men­tal health is­sues?”

Christo­pher, a 23-year-old from Brighton with de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety is­sues, felt that go­ing out on the scene only height­ened his men­tal health prob­lems and left him feel­ing worse than be­fore he left the safety of his house.

“My friends are the only rea­son I even go on the scene but eight times out of ten I have a hor­ri­ble time out due to feel­ing that I don’t fit into any of the gay stereo­types as well as not feel­ing at­trac­tive enough to be around the oth­ers on the gay scene.

“Whilst I know that most of the rea­son for me feel­ing this way is to do with my men­tal health is­sues, the fact that I don’t look gay, I lis­ten to mu­sic that isn’t in the charts and I wear clothes that aren’t fash­ion­able fur­ther push me away from fit­ting into any of the cliques and leave me feel­ing worth­less and de­flated.”

“To some the scene can be an ex­tended fam­ily and a place of be­long­ing. To oth­ers it may be a place of forced ex­pec­ta­tions and dis­il­lu­sion­ment”

When asked why he didn’t feel at­trac­tive enough Chris ex­plained that peo­ple have been both in­sult­ing to him and bar and club staff have even ap­par­ently ig­nored him in favour of serv­ing peo­ple who Chris be­lieved to be more at­trac­tive than him­self.

“Whilst I can­not be sure that this is the real rea­son,” ex­plained Chris. “I have been served last at a busy bar even though I was first there in favour of peo­ple who have ar­rived after my­self and whom I deemed both more at­trac­tive than me and look­ing more stereo­typ­i­cally ‘gay’.”

This seems to be a re­cur­ring is­sue with the peo­ple I in­ter­viewed: the fact that they feel lost, de­jected and hav­ing no real con­nec­tion to the gay scene which causes them to feel cut off from the world at large.

Pa­trick from Manch­ester, a 34-year-old gay man who has both men­tal health is­sues and HIV, also feels that the gay scene has put him into an even smaller niche of peo­ple that he doesn’t iden­tify him­self with nor feel any con­nec­tion to.

“A lot of peo­ple that I have met who have HIV seem to be sleazy and are into all sorts of things that I re­ally don’t want to be a part of. Even when I tell other LGBT peo­ple that I have HIV, around half of them think I am a slag who goes round shag­ging other HIV-pos­i­tive peo­ple bare­back or any­one who wants it - some­thing which I find just mind-bog­gling. Even other peo­ple with HIV have had this view, some­thing that con­fuses the hell out of me as I al­ways prac­tise safe sex. The fact that I also have men­tal health prob­lems only fur­ther height­ens my feel­ings of lone­li­ness along with hav­ing no con­nec­tion to a com­mu­nity that should be both wel­com­ing and more open-minded.”

Even though all of th­ese is­sues are still fre­quent and trou­bling prob­lems, since the turn of the last cen­tury so­ci­ety has ac­tu­ally be­come less and less prej­u­diced to­wards peo­ple who iden­tify them­selves as part of the LGBT spec­trum.

This doesn’t lessen the prob­lems and is­sues that arise from be­ing gay but it is a re­as­sur­ing fact that things slowly and in­evitably do get bet­ter. Whilst there are many peo­ple on the scene who are both sup­port­ive and un­der­stand­ing in re­gards to peo­ple with men­tal health is­sues, we are very lucky that there are many char­i­ties in this coun­try that are there solely for any­one who de­fines them­selves as LGBT should they need help with any as­pect of their lives. Fan­tas­tic char­i­ties such as Mind­out in Brighton, Pace in London, and even smaller projects like Com­fort Talks who are en­tirely based on­line, have been striv­ing to pro­mote men­tal health and emo­tional well-be­ing for any­one should they be gay, les­bian, trans­sex­ual or bi­sex­ual for many years.

Th­ese amaz­ing projects are con­tin­u­ally striv­ing to help any­one who needs help with their men­tal health and are help­ing to pro­mote a healthy at­ti­tude to suf­fer­ers of men­tal dis­or­ders. It’s a huge step in the right di­rec­tion for the LGBT com­mu­nity and thank­fully can only help lead to­wards less­en­ing the prej­u­dice to­wards men­tal health is­sues, some­thing that has been a long time com­ing.

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