Tue, Aug 24, 2010 - Page 16 News List

Growing up ‘different’

This week a leading magazine will suggest that Britain’s gay men are suffering from alarming levels of depression, low self-esteem, drug dependency and attempted suicides — with few places to turn for help

By Tracy McVeigh  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

A lack of high-profile role models is often complained about. Many of the most visible gay celebrities are those whose own “issues” have become only too public — Michael Barrymore, George Michael, Lindsay Lohan, Boy George, Alexander McQueen. It may be true, as the comedian Julian Clary said, that “the British people have a soft spot for a gay entertainer,” but many men do not feel confident in coming out. In May, Treasury minister David Laws had to resign after his efforts to keep his sexuality secret were undone when it was revealed he was paying rent to his partner in breach of parliamentary rules.

Afterwards he said: “I suppose it was pretty stupid because all the people I have spoken to have accepted it [my sexuality] without hesitation.”

Rugby player Gareth Thomas, 35, lived a lie for many years before coming out as gay, but only after attempting suicide. This month, he topped an impressive list of talent, the annual Pink List of the 101 most influential gay and lesbian people in the UK. In the words of one of the judges, Clare Balding, they “challenge the accepted view of gay men and women. They are supremely successful, confident and bold, they are very visible, and they happen to be gay. They don’t need to march or wave a placard but, in their own way, they have had a huge impact.”

Things may be changing, but the damage inflicted by homophobia and growing up “different” has already been done for many gay men. “Homosexuality” was not taken off the list of psychiatric disorders until 1993, making it especially difficult for older gay men to reveal their sexuality to mental health providers, said Dominic Davies, director and founder of Pink Therapy, the UK’s largest independent counseling organization working with gender and sexual minority clients: “If you don’t feel you can trust your doctor, you are not going to disclose to them. We have had quite robust research that shows significantly poorer mental health among gay men and lesbians than in the general population and significantly higher rates of drinking, smoking and drug-taking. The result of living as a stigmatized minority is that you self-medicate.”

Tim Franks of the gay and lesbian charity Pace said mental health providers in the UK are blind to the problem. “Of the young people coming into our workshops, around one in four has already attempted suicide. They are isolated and in hiding almost, they don’t know who the safe people are. The current word for bad in British schools is ‘gay,’ and children internalize this stuff very easily, they think in terms of good and bad. So by the age of 10 kids have understood that bad people are gay — then they discover they are one of them. They enter a dreadful stage of secrecy which can last 20 minutes or 50 years. Even when you make contact with the adult world, it can be a very sexualized one.

“Imagine if we expected a young heterosexual girl to get her first lesson about relationships in a singles bar. All this is traumatic and has an impact on mental health. It’s certainly a far bigger issue than something like HIV and a greater health inequality. A key failure is that mainstream health providers are not assessing this huge need. In effect, you have a system that is blind to a particular type of person.”

This story has been viewed 2595 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top