In this interview, written by Tara, our good friend Matt decided to speak out on his experiences regarding mental health in relation to being lgbtq+.
Question one: Just as an introduction, tell us what propelled you to discuss mental health in relation to the lgbt+ experience. These subjects can be very intertwined depending on one’s privilege, as well as other factors.
So I decided to discuss mental health in relation to the lgbtq+ experience because it’s an experience I’ve gone through. I wanted to talk about something that I’d experienced because while you can do research to understand mental health related issues and the lgbtq+ experience, a personal experience can help put a face to these daunting issues. Everything I’ll be sharing here will be from things I’ve researched or things I’ve experienced as an lgbtq+ person. I definitely believe that these two subjects are intertwined at least for me because I began to have mental health issues such as anxiety and depression at the age of about thirteen, which is exactly when I started to discover my sexuality. I also know that these issues are intertwined for so many people I know and research shows that lgbtq+ people are at a higher risk of experiencing multiple mental health issues.
Question two: In bringing mental health and lgbt+ as a collective to our attention, you mentioned that your own experience was the reason these two subjects felt connected somehow. Was there a defining moment in your life that was the reason?
In order to give some context to this situation, I started to have symptoms of depression when I was about thirteen years old. I felt worthless and alone, and I was losing interest in the things that made me happy and brought me joy. I felt down almost all the time and self criticized and put myself down almost every single day. You could argue that I was feeling down because of mood swings because of puberty, or because I had a lack of social connection or even because I have a family history of mental illness, but being an lgbtq+ person definitely affected my mental health on top of those issues. While in the process of becoming a strong, happy queer man, something I’m still trying to embody that, I had to work on my depression and anxiety, and in order to work on my mental health, I had to be honest and open about who I was. A definite defining moment in my life that made me realize these two topics were connected was when I came out to friends for the first time after I had started dating. Though of course I had lost some friends after coming out, the amount of positive support I had recieved was incredible. I have a completely average friend group in terms of lgbtq+ acceptance and what I believe is when it’s safe, being true to who you are can affect your mental health in so many ways. I started feeling so much more confident and better about myself once that secret was out there and I was able to express myself and be myself as an lgbtq+ person.
Question three: In what ways are lgbt+ people’s mental health affected? Does the stigma around coming out play a role?
Teenagehood in general is a hard time. People are going through so many changes and often find themselves lost and alone, the way I had. Also, most teenagers have a lack of emotional sensitivity and therefore aren’t looking out for each other. Most of us are going through tough times but we are all alone through them, we’re not helping each other out the way we should. Our mental health as lgbtq+ people is affected because we’re going through a period of uncertainty, of change. And when we’re not sure if we know who we are, we’re bound to feel down or anxious. It’s so important to feel safe and secure in who you are and who you are in the world and when you don’t, you can definitely experience mental health issues. There’s also so much stigma associated with being an lgbtq+ person in general which can really affect people’s mental health. Humans need to feel accepted. It’s a basic need. And when society doesn’t accept a certain group of people, of course they are going to have a higher percentage of mental health issues. The stigma of coming out definitely can contribute to this issue as it is an event that can cause so much stress and sometimes, more negative outcomes than positive ones. The stigma of coming out played a role in my mental health in particular, too. Worrying about losing important relationships led to an increase in my anxiety, and I spent so many sleepless nights worrying about the repercussions of my coming out. I decided that for me, the best thing to do was to come out at a time that felt safe for me and where I knew I had people’s support, because it is a decision that is much easier to make when you know that you’re safe.
Question four: Let’s discuss the phenomenon of labeling. Most people feel inclined to label themselves after they’ve come to terms with their fluidity.. and this isn’t a good mindset. Why shouldn’t people feel rushed to label themselves? If you’re comfortable sharing, what was your experience?
There are some people that are one hundred percent homosexual or one hundred percent heterosexual, but for most of us, sexuality is extremely fluid. But nowadays, people feel the need to label themselves even if their sexuality doesn’t fit a particular one, which is the bad part about labels.. I believe that if you know for sure that you’re one hundred percent into the same gender, having a label for those feelings and those experiences helps so so much and can help you feel like you have a place in this world. But for me, labels have always been a tricky topic. In the past, I have felt romantic and sexual feelings towards males and females, but have been more attracted to males. I’ve told my friends that I am bisexual as this is a label that they understand and I’ve told my parents that I’m gay because they don’t really understand sexual fluidity, but in my heart, I am still questioning my sexuality. I wish that society understood that sexuality is fluid and that people shouldn’t feel forced to choose a label. Especially if you’re first coming out, choosing a label can feel really daunting, and if you have enough to worry about already, why rush to label yourself? You’re you no matter what label you use.
Question five: Lastly, I’d like to thank you again for discussing mental health as an lgbt+ person. What would you say to anyone reading this who’s battling depression or anxiety?
You’re welcome! I love this page so much and feel honoured to be able to contribute to it. This is such an important topic to me and I’m happy that I was able to discuss it with you. To anybody battling depression or anxiety or any mental health issue, as an lgbtq+ person or not, I offer you all the love and good vibes that I have. I’m sending you so many virtual hugs and everything good that there is in the world. Remember that you are strong, even when it doesn’t feel like it. You are valid, even if you tell yourself that you’re not acceptable. You’re beautiful, even if you don’t believe it yet. And things will get better. You just need to hold on and take the necessary steps to try to improve your mental health, because this is so so important. Also, I hope that while reading this interview, you’ve realized that you’re not alone. There are always people going through what you are, and as cheesy as it sounds, if we all help each other out a little more, the world would be so much more of a better place.