Magazine True Life & Opinions Mental health and the gay community By Mario | @Londondiaries2 Mental health is a topic people still find difficult to discuss, even with their closest circle of friends. If you ask us gays, we are all fabulous. “Depressed, me? Struggling? Never!” Which is ironic, considering the staggering amount of data proving otherwise. In fact, sexual minorities suffer worse mental health than the sexual majority. Supported by Stonewall, a recent survey involving 5,799 gay and bisexual men aged 16 and over, shows that mental ill-health is common within our community: 21.3% were depressed and 17.1% anxious, while 3.0% had attempted suicide and 6.5% had self-harmed within the last 12 months. Yes, you can have a body to die for, a perfect job, bathe in money, and be in the perfect relationship. In fact, you can have it all, and still be a mental mess. You shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling ‘low’ when out there a hell of a lot of people apparently seem to be doing much worse than you do. Who knows what it took to get you where you are right now? Our private life is an intricate labyrinth. You can easily lose your way in there, especially if your story is not as straightforward as it appears to be, or if this is simply the way you are, from birth. Believe me, if you find life an uphill struggle, you are not alone, and it is OK. It’s fine to talk about it. In fact, being open about it and cohabiting with a male partner confer health benefits and a buffer to emotional distress and illness through companionship and mutual psycho-social support. There is a shelf in my heart where a single container stands, in isolation. It is made of see through glass and its label reads simply “DO NOT OPEN” in capital letters. Years ago, when at my lowest, somehow I had managed to find the strength to compress and bottle up the darkness within myself and virtually seal it away in what I eventually filed in my brain as ‘Jar of hearts’. I have always identified my condition with the ability to FEEL life, and the world, in ways only people who experience depression can understand. I remember crying the first time I saw a clown in a circus. I was eleven years old. Seeing the man behind the make-up and immediately identifying with him and his concealed desperation gave me nightmares for weeks. Even at that age, I had a subconscious understanding of the way we all try to hide hellish realities behind the mask we are all very likely to wear as soon as we wake up in the morning. Perhaps, pre-pubescent attraction to my male friends played a part in this. Having realised I was gay, I considered the environment around and decided to not only hide, but also that something was wrong with me, something unspeakable, a curse, in fact. This is not a surprise. Data gathered from the survey I’ve already mentioned suggests, that young gay and bisexual men are a significantly greater risk of poor mental health than older men because the young experience more homophobic abuse and assault. The data also suggests that the network of social support interventions for young LGBT people in the UK is insufficient. Five years ago, I underwent an initial training for a new job. After six weeks, my fellow classmates elected me the ‘funniest’ of the group. I won easily, without even trying. I actually thought I was keeping a low profile. As it turns out, stand-up comedy would be my talent if I ever decide to enter a beauty pageant and embrace love and world peace. It is telling that creative people in general and comedians in particular are very likely to dive into depression. In a way, Robin Williams’ death, back in 2014, did not surprise me at all. The man was a genius in his field. As such, he was bound to question more than your average Joe his mission in life and, as I know too well, questions can be deadly. To keep the darkness at bay there is only so much you can do, so many projects you can take on and strategically place between yourself and the moment you come to realise that waking up in the morning no longer holds any meaning. Human beings who take their lives do not do it lightly. If you are one of those people, who perceive suicide as a selfish act, you should reconsider your angle. The thinking process, the weighing up of the pros and cons takes place over a very long period. The anguish and guilt often involved during this time, shows that individuals who commit suicide have not one single selfish bone in their bodies. In truth, committing suicide is an extremely intimate and lonely act, devastatingly tragic and hopeless in its finality. Selfish is what we do to soothe the pain generated by something inconceivable. We cannot imagine that someone we love dearly may commit such an act and then leave us to deal with the horror left behind. Therefore, we blame it on selfishness. As always, acceptance is an elusive concept, when it comes to feelings and matters of the heart. I have lost count of the number of times I have debated the impact of my unnatural death on the important people in my life. Above all, I picture my mum by my coffin, her face reduced to stone, crazed with unimaginable pain. All I feel is remorse for considering such atrocity, coupled with the awareness of not knowing how dark tomorrow may be, and the day after tomorrow, and then the next, on repeat for the foreseeable future, as the shadows stretch and cover my heart. Although for the time being green grass covers my land of reason, the ‘Jar of hearts’ is still there, stored deep inside me, as a reminder that I will be forever a work in progress, and that sanity is as fragile as a jar of glass. This is not a call for help. I am in a place where I cherish my good days, which at times stretch into good months, even good years. Yes, I experience strings of bad days. Yes, at times, I find it difficult to get out of bed, but I do get up, because I make a conscious effort to keep living, one day at time, doing the things that ultimately make me feel alive and worthy. Above all, I do not hold any shame in admitting I am not perfect. In a way, this is what gives me strength. *Source: Journal of Public Health Advance Access published April 26, 2016. Mental Health inequalities among gay and bisexual men in England, Scotland and Wales: a large community-based cross-sectional survey. Signs of depression You may have noticed a change in the way you’re responding or feeling about things. The following points are indications that it could be depression: Persistent sadness, lasting two weeks or more. Loss of interest in your favourite things. Finding no fun or enjoyment in life. Loss of self-confidence. Feeling guilty, bad, unlikeable, or not good enough. Feeling empty inside. Feeling useless or unable to cope with life. Feeling bored all the time. Increased feelings of anxiety. Inability to see a future for yourself. Thinking everything is pointless. Thinking life is not worth living. Thoughts of death or suicide. Wanting to go to sleep and never wake up again. Especially low mood in the mornings. Feeling more irritable, frustrated, or aggressive than usual. Trouble concentrating on things, poor memory. Other signs may include: Loss of energy, feeling tired all the time. Changed sleep pattern – difficulty getting to sleep, bad nightmares, waking in the night, waking up too early, or sleeping much more than usual. Spending less time socialising with friends or family. Loss of sexual desire. Changed eating pattern – loss of appetite, weight loss or comfort eating. Getting lower grades than usual at school, college, or university. Not going to school/college/work, or becoming disruptive. Becoming a hypochondriac, worrying lots about illness. More headaches, backaches or stomach aches than you normally get. Turning to alcohol or drugs to try to make yourself feel better. If you recognise some of these symptoms, or if you’re having feelings you can’t cope with, the best thing to do is contact your GP. If you’re worried about this, you could take a friend or family member with you for support. If you just need someone to talk to, you can call Samaritans on 116 123 or LGBT Switchboard on 0300 330 0630.