Gay men versus mental health

Gay men versus mental health

In December 2015, just before Christmas, I read about the death of a guy that I knew. His name was Darren. He was 32.

Darren was a gay guy. I’d interviewed him once in early 2012 (about the work that he was doing with a charity in Manchester). I saw him again briefly that summer when we were both volunteering at the London Olympics.

Upon learning of Darren’s death, I immediately assumed that he had committed suicide — 32, just before Christmas, gay. It was the obvious explanation — another example of the continuing mental health struggles that seem to disproportionately impact gay men like Darren, and gay men like me.

Why are gay men particularly susceptible to mental health issues?

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) confirms that their studies demonstrate that gay men experience higher levels of anxiety, depression and suicidal feelings than heterosexual men. Rates of drug and alcohol misuse have also been found to be higher.

According to the NHS:

Poor levels of mental health among gay and bisexual people have often been linked to experiences of homophobic discrimination and bullying. For some, other factors such as age, religion or ethnicity can further complicate mental distress.

Many gay men have experienced:

  • Hostility or rejection from family, parents and friends;
  • Bullying and name calling at school;
  • Rejection by most mainstream religions;
  • Danger of violence in public places;
  • Harassment from neighbours and other tenants;
  • Casual homophobic comments on an everyday basis;
  • Embarrassed responses (and occasionally prejudice) from professionals, such as GPs;
  • Discrimination at work;
  • Negative portrayal of gay people in the media.

Experiencing these difficulties can mean many gay men face mental health issues, including:

  • Difficulty accepting their sexual orientation, leading to conflicts, denial, alcohol abuse and isolation;
  • Trying to keep their sexuality a secret through lying, pretending or leading a double life;
  • Low self-esteem;
  • Increased risk of self-harm and suicide attempts;
  • Damaged relationships or lack of support from families;
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder and depression from long-term effects of bullying.

Gay men are incredibly resilient and, in general, we’re pretty good at presenting a positive image to the world: “Look how fantastic my life is!” The reality is often much darker, much more complex.

Make sure that you regularly check-in with your gay friends. Don’t assume that they’re doing great just because that’s what their social media status updates suggest. They may not even realise that they’re at risk of falling apart.

Read more from Gareth Johnson