Mental health concerns are an epidemic in this country that affects each of us. There is a deep-rooted and dangerous stigma surrounding it that is born of ignorance and prejudice. No one can escape what their mind might inflict upon them.
We combat that stigma by using facts, figures and evidence to show that at least one in four people will be affected by mental health issues. By telling understandable stories about anxiety, depression and other diagnoses, we hope that others can empathise with us in the same way they would sympathise over a broken arm. We want the mental to be equal to the physical.
Stigmas within stigmas
However, I feel some specific triggers and traumas have additional stigmas attached. It could merely be my anxiety speaking, but I have experienced reactions to particular triggers that be far from welcome. Speaking of triggers, I now warn you of discussions of homophobia and suicide.
For me, my mental health issues have significant roots in being raised in a catholic environment while realising I was gay. For much of my childhood, I denied my reality I was desperate for the introjected values of straightness to be my truth. My catholic faith condemned me because of those confused, roiling emotions inside me. That conflict resulted in deeply embedded anxiety and depression. It resulted in my intention to commit suicide due to my incongruence towards my queer self. On two occasions over seven years, I wanted to kill myself. Death seemed preferable to life.
It took many years and a lot of mental struggle for me to accept my true gay self, leave my religion far behind and come to terms with the mental anguish that partly resulted from all that. Ye that is the issue that I have faced. People accept I have anxiety and have suffered from depression. They support me when I mention my experience with suicidal thoughts. Having mental health issues is deemed acceptable.
However, something dangerous happens when I link those issues with their roots in religion and homophobia. Thankfully my family do not have any part in these activities. They are wonderfully supportive and accepting. They accept their faith has an appalling history of homophobia. One member even said, ‘The Catholic Church needs to get its act together and into the 21st Century!’
But religion is a powerful influence on people. They hold those beliefs so forcefully that anything that might challenge them is looked upon with suspicion. Outside of my family, there have been numerous occasions when I have been gaslighted when I raise the topic of religion, homophobia and their connection to queer mental health and more specifically my own.
Choose the right religion?
One such example of this gaslighting resulted in being told that my experience is a by-product of being in the wrong religion or denomination. As if Catholicism is the only religious belief system that is homophobic and that my joining another religion or sect would have prevented what I went through.
A friend of mine tried, for want of a better word, to convert me to her form of Anglicanism. She didn’t understand my virulent atheism because while she could understand my opposition to Catholic teaching, especially on homosexuality, she didn’t see why that made me against religion in general. However, her section of Protestantism supports such thinking that those with same-sex attraction are legitimately allowed such feelings. However, they also preach those individuals should choose not to act upon them. To be told that I am allowed to be gay, but not allowed to act gay triggered levels of anxiety and pain that I hadn’t experienced in over a decade. I will admit now that her gaslighting me because she struggled with my atheism has grievously damaged our friendship.
Another experience was being told that I cannot blame religion for the pain I experienced growing up gay. I’ve heard it on numerous occasions that religion is not harmful to gays, just certain priests and cardinals and that I am mistaken in my belief that one of the primary roots of homophobia is religious doctrine and dogma. There is something dark about having your experience, which caused you pain, anguish and suicidal thoughts, denied because your truth challenges another person’s idea of their religion.
Safe Nuanced Spaces
Mental health is a broad topic for discussion. It is an essential topic. And for those who suffer from such issues with an entire array of root causes, there needs to be a nuanced space where they can discuss their experiences without the risk of being gaslighted. Each of our experiences will likely challenge another person’s deeply held beliefs. I know that religion has helped many people with their own mental health, but it feels toxic to my own. We each deserve a space where we can feel safe to challenge that if our experiences warrant whether it being racism, sexism, homophobia or another abuse of power. These conversations need to be had because they are some of the root causes of people’s mental health.