My Story: Coming Out Gay Is Easy, Mental Illness Isn’t

My Story: Coming Out Gay Is Easy, Mental Illness Isn’t

South African Gay Indian shares his story about mental illness and being gay
Naufal Khan is a South African Indian who is a freelance writer, author and traveller.

South African Indians are so woven into a thread of mixed cultures, beliefs that sometimes are the very moral fabric that creates misconceptions of issues around homosexuality and mental illness.

I was diagnosed almost a decade ago with mental illness. Coming from a background where being gay is still a taboo, it was easier for me to come out with my sexual orientation than to confess the haunt of a mental condition. When you as a parent or friend can accept that being gay is not the same thing as “experimenting,” then just maybe someday understand that depressed people are not simply “having a bad day.”

Most of you reading this can also attest to this being also a very taboo subject to bring out irrespective of your racial stereotype or sexual status. What if some future employer or lover or friend stumbles across this news and decides I’m too “mentally unstable” to be associated with?

Other people, however, will see this as courage, and will recognize that depression is a sickness, not a sign of inferiority.

Depression is something affects thousands across the country and it is something you can deal with. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide and there is still no rainbow flag like the LGBT community to show how many of are united by this disease. When was the last time you heard someone saying they were an “ally” for mental illness?

Ignoring your depressive state can cost you more than just your happiness. In the UK the ‘Time to Change’ campaign, an umbrella group of charities and the Institute of Psychiatry with a remit to challenge stigma, conducted a survey which found that admitting to a mental health condition was deemed harder than confessing to having a drink problem or going bankrupt.

Almost a third of respondents believed someone with a mental health problem couldn’t do a responsible job. Believing is an assumption and the mother of all…well you know what I mean.

“Perhaps it’s no surprise that a separate study found fewer than four in 10 employers would feel able to employ someone with a mental health problem,” the study’s authors say.

“The figures paint a bleak picture that reflects where mental health problems can stop you getting a job, having social interaction and getting on with life because they are so stigmatized.”

Bear in mind that a mental condition is treated in the same light as HIV in terms of disclosure, you are protected legally and you have rights should your status be disclosed without your permission.

The study suggests that the impact of stigma extends well beyond the boardroom and shop floor. People are four times more likely to break off a romantic relationship if their partner is diagnosed with severe depression than if they develop a physical disability.

How often do your friends open up to you and confess they have seen a counsellor or psychiatrist once in their life? If you are someone who has a mental condition, are you able to talk about it? Depression itself is a demon that you have to fight and it also brings mistrust and leads to devastating outcomes in all areas of your life, and that is the reason we should not throw a veil over it and stay in silence and in shame.

The first step is to pass on the message: being depressed is okay. And the good thing about admitting or identifying that is that you can fix it.

Being depressed does not make you unworthy of love in the future or unemployable or “damaged.” Being depressed — and this is often the hardest to remember — still makes you a worthy human being. This was one of the biggest mistakes I made, I became my own enemy but I saw reason to leave a dark space and love myself again.

In my early days of being diagnosed, I wasn’t given the correct treatment protocol and during this period my relationship deteriorated. My partner at that time did not have any idea how to deal with my condition anymore. And eventually it ended. You have to remember being on medication it is not the only aspect to recovery.

One needs to condition yourself first and your partner to be part of the recovery such that you can successfully overcome the mental instability and still hold on to your relationship, if you’re single get a friend or you will be assigned a sponsor to help you if you need someone on this journey.

The first person you need to love is yourself before you can share your magical love with someone else who makes you want to live another day.

So next time a friend or family member admits that he or she is depressed, take it as the coming-out that it is. Be kind. Be patient. And above all, do not turn away.

I decided to come out with my story for those who don’t want to. And it’s okay, I am hoping you can help yourself with this. For now I am happy, I do love myself and have my Prince Charming. I hope you do too someday.

5 Myths About Being Gay That Also Apply to Depression:

  • Depression is not a choice. Part of the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of a mental disorder is that it is outside of voluntary control. No one decides to feel cripplingly sad or numb or perpetually sleepy just to dodge work; if depressed people appear “lazy,” it’s because reduced effort is part of the disease.
  • It’s not a “phase.” While depression most often develops between ages 15-34, it can strike at any age, and it can be as chronic as any other medical condition, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. If you’ve already had one episode of clinical depression, there’s a one in two chance you’ll have another.
  • It’s not specific to one culture or one kind of family. Depression affects 350 million people worldwide and, in wealthy countries, tends to more prevalent among the poor. Scientists believe that severe life stresses, such as childhood abuse or the loss of a parent, may be a factor, but estimate that the heritability of depression is around 50%. (In other words, your genes and your environment may be equally at fault.) Although certain populations are more at risk, anyone — and I repeat, anyone — can become depressed.
  • It’s not contagious. Hanging out with depressed people may make you a little glummer, but it won’t make you mentally ill. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain and can’t be transmitted by association.
  • It’s part of who we are, but it’s not all we can be. If someone is severely depressed, it’s likely that they won’t want to be doing much besides sleeping and hanging out isolated. But, underneath the depressed affect, they are still the talented writer or artist or devoted friend that you once knew. There is a good chance they will recover, and at that point, they will simply be a person who has struggled with depression in the past.

Help is all around you, visit your doctor or talk to someone you trust. SADAG is Africa’s largest mental health support and advocacy group.For more information on a centre near you click here.

Written by Naufal Khan

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