So May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Do you know anyone with mental health issues? And I’m not just talking about people with Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Major Depression, and any of the other more publicly known mental illnesses. I’m talking about your friend that struggles with depression, your sibling who has a drug or alcohol addiction, your neighbor who suffers from anxiety. You get the idea. Mental health issues affect everyone in some way. And they affect the LGBTQ+ community even more (image below from the American Psychiatric Association data on Diversity).
Why, then, is there such stigma around this topic?
We must be able to talk openly and honestly about our mental health.
I say this with such confidence, but here is some back story… Like many baby gays (and I use that term to mean any LGBTQ+ individuals), I struggled with figuring out and accepting myself. This struggle was a lonely and sad place to be for a long time. But, I didn’t talk about it. It was (and still is) customary in my family to not talk about our problems. Some delusional assumption that if we don’t say it out loud, it isn’t really happening or true. Unfortunately, the only thing that creates in my experience is shame and fear (and depression and a load of other problems).
I was born and raised in Macon, GA and I grew up attending a southern Baptist church. Some of the people that I was most nervous to come out to, were the most supportive, including my (at the time) 75-year-old grandmother who was also born and raised in Macon and an avid church going Christian. I remember being incredibly nervous. I worried about what might happen for weeks, probably months, before telling her. But I had decided that if I was going to continue to be close to her and share my life with her, I had to tell her. She called me when I was driving home from work one day and I remember her reaction very clearly. She told me that everyone had to live their own life and no one on this earth has a right to judge other people. It made no difference to her. She never blinked an eye at me, my wife, our family.
Coming out can be a truly exhausting process. One that I hope one day is not necessary. But what I gained when I came out to my close friends, and then family, and then co-workers is the realization that you don’t have to live in that place of secrecy and fear. In fact, I found through coming out that communication about things that were rarely discussed is very powerful. It is more powerful than the absence of communication.The way to end stigma, stigma of any kind, is to talk about it. So, let’s talk about it… This is something that I have done for many years as it relates to LGBTQ+ issues. I’ve taken the stance that if I am open and honest about who I am and that impacts just one person’s acceptance of the gay community in a positive way, then it was worth it. It’s time to take that stance for mental health issues also, which I personally find even more difficult.
Below are some fantastic resources for anyone who is looking for support, interested in providing support, or just looking to learn more about LGBTQ+ and mental health issues… I challenge us all to talk more about mental health. How is your mental health today?