According to key figures from the LGBT Foundation, LGB people are two to three times more likely than heterosexual people to suffer from depression. I am one of these people.
It is only with hindsight that I can now see a correlation between my mental health issues and coming out as gay. During my year abroad in Spain, I started to develop feelings for a woman but it just wasn’t something I recognised or wanted to address. I returned home from Spain feeling extremely confused, but I pretty much ignored it, minus speaking to my best friend. And it stayed that way for almost 2 years, during which time I became extremely depressed and anxious in my final year at university. I’m not saying that this was the only cause of my mental health issues, but it played a big part. I felt very lost and confused and began to isolate myself so much that it got to a point where I couldn’t face seeing anyone, minus my parents and occasionally, my housemates. The feelings about my sexuality were put to the side whilst I went through the most difficult period of my life. Yet, after a long and hard road to recovery, they were still very much there. I just felt like I could deal with it more easily and start to process what was happening.
I’d say there’s some similarities between opening-up about being gay and opening-up about having a mental health issue, particularly with regards to acceptance. I was terrified with what my friends and family would say. I had this notion that some friends would be more accepting of one than the other. For example, my Mum was my anchor during my mental health issues, but struggled a lot more to cope with the fact that I was gay. Certain friends were extremely accepting of my sexuality but struggled to understand my mental illness. I guess, with both though, it just takes time and the willingness to understand. I’ve been very lucky to have such a supportive family and bunch of friends, who at the end of the day, just want me to be happy.
Another similarity is having to contend with stereotypes. I’ve honestly lost count of the amount of times someone has said to me, but you don’t look like a lesbian; or, you’re too pretty to be a lesbian. I think they genuinely think that it’s a compliment but it is not. I’m extremely comfortable with who I am, so I can brush comments like this off, but some people could find them offensive. Stereotypes associated with mental health are extremely harmful and don’t represent an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to live with a mental illness. There’s a very common misconception that, depression is purely down to laziness and that people could snap out of it if they tried hard enough, when in fact it is an extremely debilitating illness.
I would say that there is a lack of education and social stigma attached to coming out much in the same way that there is for people with MH issues. Neither of these were spoken about when I was at school. All I knew about MH issues were the stereotypes I saw in films or heard people talk about. I went to an extremely Catholic all-girls school and although the diversity of religion was talked about, sexuality was not something that was ever mentioned. I came out late, through my own choices, because I didn’t know until I was older. But I can’t imagine how hard it must be for those at school who feel too ashamed or scared to come out for fear of ridicule or isolation. Diversity should be celebrated, no matter your race, gender, sexuality or religion. But before it is celebrated, it should be talked about, recognised and seen as a good thing. Where are our positive role models? I think we need more representation in the media, films, TV programmes. Young people should not be made to feel ashamed or afraid of who they are. They should be able to feel proud of who they are and celebrate the qualities that make them unique.
I am gay and I do have a mental illness. But they are only certain parts of me. I am comfortable with who I am and I can honestly say that being open and honest with everyone I meet about these two aspects, has given me the confidence to be my true self.