Are Gays More Depressed than Straights?

By: Margie Mirell
9.25.2012

Dear Margie,

I'm 24-years-old, I work full time and attend night classes at a community college. I live in a small town so gays around here are somewhat rare.

My question is if depression and anxiety run more in homosexuals rather then heterosexuals. I have depression, and I sometimes have anxiety attacks. On average, maybe 2-3 times a month.

The reason I ask is because I have two gay male friends, and they also have anxieties. My one lesbian friend has depression. So while the few gays I do know deal with the same difficulties as I, I was wondering if it’s common amongst gay people. Or is it just my luck that I know the few that are?

Thank you,
PNB

Dear PNB,

Let’s start with some definitions.

Anxiety is nervous energy that one feels, and it usually manifests from a fear of the unknown. When LGBT young people are dealing with coming out to family and friends, and wondering how they can wear their sexual identity in a positive way, it can cause a sense of anxiousness. They may not have role models to show them what it means to be a happy, fully-developed gay person, and that creates a fear of the unknown: Who will love and nurture me? How do I express myself as a gay person? Will I lose family or friends when they learn the truth?

Depression, however, is longer term. When someone has internalized their anxiety and believe there are no answers for their situation, they feel isolated and alone. They lose hope. And that loss of hope leads to depression.

What you have to understand is that from age 15 to early 30s, a person is working on his identity and learning how to be a sexual person within his community. However, LGBT people aren’t on a normal playing field. They are up against a political world where there is still a sense that they are different or “less than” the majority. Even people with healthy self-esteems face that cultural challenge, and it’s not something heterosexual people have to deal with.

Most people develop their sexuality and sexual identity away from their parents. Straight people kiss and have sex with people and they don’t tell their parents about it. However, when gay people come out they immediately place their parents in their sexual lives. Their parents don’t think, “Oh, Tommy will be dating boys now.” Instead, there’s the unspoken knowledge of what Tommy does in bed, and even though parents might not directly think about specific acts that concept is now present.

This doesn’t happen with straight people, and as a result LGBT people have a built-in anxiety when it comes to telling strangers about their homosexuality. So while there may be studies saying there is more anxiety or depression among gay people, the real point should be finding a way to deal with your specific situation.

You live in a small town. It’s probably restrictive, with little diversity in the way that people are living their lives. It makes sense that this environment causes you to feel anxious or depressed, but if you’re having anxiety attacks 2-3 times a month you should seek medical assistance and get medication. Physical exercise, yoga and mindful meditation are also good ways to release anxiety.

For depression, keep in mind that there’s a spectrum of feelings. Some people are highly critical and come across as always having a negative response to situations. These are “glass-half-empty” people, and they should be looking for ways to not be so inwardly critical, otherwise they’ll alienate themselves from potential friends and cause a self-fulfilling prophesy that lands them in real, dangerous depression.

That’s the other end of the spectrum, where a person has difficulty focusing, getting out of bed or doing daily chores. If that’s the level of depression, then it’s important to seek medical attention from a therapist and doctor. In all cases, if you want to fight depression it’s extremely important to be active and involved in social situations.

Getting support from other gay people is key to helping both of these situations. If you live near a large city, look for LGBT groups or community centers you can join. Get online and reach out to other gay people in chat rooms, or find a therapist you can talk with. All of these options can help you deal with what’s making you feel anxious and depressed, and get you on a path to living a more fully-formed life.

 

Margie Mirell, LMFT and life coach, has been working in private practice with the LGBT community in Santa Monica, California for more than 20 years. She focuses on relationship issues, addictions, and co-dependency.

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