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Destigmatizing Mental Health

Because of stigma and discrimination, gay men are more likely than heterosexual men to struggle with their mental health. Thankfully, depression and mental health is no longer this taboo conversation that we have been ignoring for decades.

Research and real life experiences have found that compared to heterosexual men, gay and bisexual men are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, and younger men seem to be at a higher risk of depression than older gay men. According to research, the LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide, experience suicidal thoughts, and engage in self-harm, as compared to youths that are straight identified.

Dr Shelley Bernhardt, a Counselling Psychologist at Witkoppen Health and Welfare Centre says that fear of rejection from friends, family members, anti-gay messages heard in spaces like churches, communities and in the media can worsen one’s mental health. “Having support in life is immensely important to a person’s mental health and overall well-being. But not everyone is privileged enough to get this support. Depression is real but even more so in the gay community because of the rejection they face. Getting diagnosed and starting medication as soon as you can will help in the long run.” concludes Dr Bernhardt.

Early Warning Signs
If you believe, or are wondering, if someone you know, or even yourself, is struggling with depression or anxiety, take a look at some of the most common warning signs below.

Dr Tamsyn Nash, a Counselling Psychologist at Witkoppen Health and Welfare Centre says that experiencing one or more of the following feelings or behaviours can be an early warning sign of a problem:

  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • Pulling away from people
  • Having low or no energy
  • Feeling numb or like nothing matters
  • Having unexplained aches and pains
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • Yelling or fighting with family and friends
  • Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head
  • Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
  • Thinking of harming yourself or others

If you’re feeling one or more of the symptoms mentioned above, you may need to seek professional help. But what if you can’t afford one or get in touch?

Here few techniques you could try:

  • If you feel yourself sinking, give yourself time to just be.  Give yourself one day to just feel whatever you are feeling. It’s okay, we’re all human. Negative emotions are valid.
  • Relaxation exercises such as breathing and meditation can be helpful for coping with anxiety.
  • Exercising can help lighten up your mood, try jogging or walking around the block.
  • Talk to someone you can trust. Talking about your feelings within a safe space with someone who’s non-judgemental allows you to express what you feel instead of ignoring or suppressing it.
  • Say NO more often. Learning the art of saying “no”,  identifying and expressing your needs is helpful, especially when your anxiety stems from your taking on more than you can handle.

Mental health is a serious illness that often leads to depression which has claimed lives of many South Africans. It is as important as physical health. Take care, watch for the signs. Your wellbeing is important!

Here are a few helpful numbers you can contact should you need to:

  • Suicide Crisis Line:0800-567-567
  • LifeLine:0861-322-322
  • Domestic violence helpline:0800-150-150
  • Childline:0800-055-555