I remember when my best friend and co-worker came out to me. I had known him for over a year but the topic of his sexuality had never come up before. I had confided in him about my childhood and things I had gone through and so in a gesture of giving he whispered into my ear, "I have something to share with you too. I'm gay." Then he leaned back and giggled nervously waiting for my response. I had suspected all along but I thought it would be appropriate to act surprised. I smiled a big broad grin and said, "I am so honored that you told me this." Of course the second thing out of my mouth was, "Who else knows?"
It was then that I realized what a big deal this was for him to say those words. My friend told me that I was the only straight person he had told. None of his family knew or would know. When his mother was dying of cancer he debated on telling her but just could not bring himself to do it. His brothers, his parents, his extended family, his co-workers...nobody knew he was gay. It was a secret he had been hiding for years.
And then it also dawned on me how much of a struggle that would be to keep something so integral to your sense of self hidden away.
When I was suffering from a horrible depression and unable to keep from crying despite being at work, it was my friend who dialed a psychologist and handed me the phone. He understood depression firsthand as he had been battling both depression and anxiety for years. Depression crosses all lines of human classification. Doesn't matter what race, ethnic group, country of origin, or sexual orientation you belong to. Depression can affect any human being. Yet some populations do seem to suffer more. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness , some studies suggest that the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender population may be more at risk for depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders than their heterosexual counterparts.
Why is this so?
The National Women's Health Information Center reports that for lesbian women depression may be, in part, caused by social stigma, rejection by family members, being subject to abuse and violence, and having to hide some or all aspects of one's life. I would conclude that these issues would be true for bisexuals and gay men as well. One would hope that such things as discrimination and prejudice would not be such an issue today for persons who are gay but this is sadly not the case. Just do a google search of homosexuality and depression and you will soon see evidence that the stigma of being gay is being kept alive. I don't have to tell you that there are those who see being gay as a mental and/or moral affliction in itself.
Just to clarify where the American Psychological Association stands on this, here is what they have to say:
"Homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social and vocational capabilities. Further, the American Psychological Association urges all mental health professionals to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual orientations."
I think it is important for people to know that being gay is not a mental disorder. Nor does being gay overtly cause depression. One reason for depression among the gay population is how negative messages about sexual orientation are internalized. In the September 2008 issue of The Journal of Homosexuality, one study from the University of Minnesota showed that the degree of internalized homonegativity (tanslated as a negative attitude towards homosexuality) among homosexual men is what predicts poor mental health and not the act of being homosexual. The researchers conclude that:
"In particular, the old advice to gay men to fight, deny, or minimize their homosexuality likely only increases depression, greater isolation, and poorer sexual health. In short, viewing homosexuality as a disorder is not only inaccurate, it may be harmful as well."
Okay so you are gay and depressed and one of the reasons you are depressed is that you feel you can't tell anyone you are gay. Bonnie Goldman, who is the Editorial Director for Health Central's "The Body: The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource gives this important advice to anyone who is gay and is struggling with making the decision to come out or not:
"It's critical to get support, even if you think you're OK handling your life by yourself. This is especially true if you're in a community where homosexuality is not yet accepted. Keeping your sexual orientation to yourself and telling nobody can put you at risk for depression, isolation and HIV/AIDS. The most important thing at the beginning is to gain strength and become confident enough to deal with the diverse and sometimes challenging responses you'll get from family and friends Many gay people who have not gotten support from their families have managed to form supportive "families" with friends."
I am hopeful that one of the places that you can find such a family of supportive friends is here on Health Central's My Depression Connection. Whatever your sexual orientation you will be accepted and supported here. Remember that whatever you are going through, you are never alone. Please always know that you can reach out here.
Coming Out Resources:
- For anyone wanting to come out to their parents here is excellent advice given by an organization called PFlag.
- In a June article on Time Magazine.com, Caryn Brooks talks about how to come out on Facebook. One of the advantages touted is that you don't have to have the same conversation a thousand times.
- And here is a Wikihow on coming out with detailed instructions.
Finding Health care or a Psychotherapist:
If you are gay and wanting to find either a health care provider who does not discriminate based upon your sexual orientation, or a gay affirmative psychotherapist, look to the following links for help.
- Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA)
Phone: (415) 255-4547
- Writer Fran Brown tells you how to find a psychotherapist who is not going to judge you or try to cure you of being gay.
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Resources:
- National Center for Lesbian Rights Phone: (415) 392-6257
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public
PFlag "PFLAG supports GLBT people, their families and friends through local PFLAG chapter helplines and support group meetings and locally and nationally produced resources. PFLAG educates families and provides public education on sexual orientation, gender identity and GLBT issues."
Youth Resource: "YouthResource is a Web site created by and for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (GLBTQ) young people. YouthResource takes a holistic approach to sexual health and exploring issues of concern to GLBTQ youth, by providing information and offer support on sexual and reproductive health issues through education and advocacy."
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD): Is dedicated to promoting and ensuring fair, accurate and inclusive representation of people and events in the media as a means of eliminating homophobia and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Remember that whatever you are going through you don't have to face things alone. I am greatly hoping that My Depression Connection is a place where all people feel safe, supported, and accepted. Please feel free to share your stories here as much as you feel comfortable doing so. You just may help someone else who is in the same situation.