The Stigma of Mental Health in Gay Culture

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I selfishly believed that something was wrong because I appear to attract’ people with mental health illness. I experience mental health illnesses, depression and anxiety. Was my belief a symptom of my self-hate and feelings of shame at experiencing mental health problems? I have to admit that was part of it.

Friends who also experience mental health conditions would comment: ‘what is about me that I attract these people.’ Indirectly, one can interpret such comments as reflecting on me: my mental illness was responsible for me attracting people with mental health illness.

My experiences have led me to believe that, yes, my encounters with other gays with mental illness has something to do with some of the underlying causes of my psychological persona. However, this does not fully explain my experiences. I feel I/we have to accept that many gays are experiencing mental challenges. My psychological profile is not unique. It is something I share with many others. I grew up in an environment where like many others, I have had to fight to accept myself and seek validation for being myself. Laws alone do not eradicate people’s underlying prejudices. The sooner we embrace this, the more compassionate we will be of ourselves and others.

The shaming of people with mental health illness on dating sites and some sections of the gay media has to end. Statements like ‘no crazies’, looking for ‘normal’, ‘looking for someone that don’t come with baggage’ has to stop. These statements are stigmatising gay people with mental illness. It is no different from stating no blacks, or people with physical disabilities etc. Some, one can argue, see body shapes and heights as physical disabilities. Others will say it is a matter of personal preference. The non-contextualisation of beliefs are not personal preferences.

The overtly toxic masculinity on dating websites and in some sections of gay culture sends the wrong message. One can say that these messages in themselves are signs of self-hatred — the desire to mask all semblance of what some perceive as non-masculine traits, for example, to display emotions, showing empathy or sensitivity.

We who fought, well maybe not, those who inherited the liberties fought so hard by many, through their lives, well being and oppression, have adopted the face of the oppressors.

The stigmatisation of mental illness in some areas of gay culture, one can argue, stems from homosexuality being, not too long ago, labelled by the medical profession as a mental illness. Conversion therapists see homosexuality as a mental abnormality or lifestyle choice. Hence their belief that they can cure individuals of their homosexuality.

There are, one can argue, a variety of reasons why people have mental illnesses. Environmental factors, such as oppression, discrimination, can induce mental illness in people. It can also be a product of biological factors (I dare not use the word genetics). One can say that it can result from a combination of both environmental and biological factors. Some can even state some behaviours labelled as mental illness are social constructs. Stigmatising people experiencing mental illness is seeing their illness as something that they can without medical intervention control. I would argue that this is not the case. This area is a minefield, which I approach with caution and a level of humility.

I am actively involved in several projects trying to address this issue. In promoting awareness, I am also helping myself. I do not see this as being selfish. I am acquiring understanding, and in doing so, I am contextualising my and others experiences. Compassion starts with us.

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