Imagine a young gay teenager, around the age of thirteen going on fourteen, who denies who he is and lives in the closet. He knows deep down in his soul that he is gay, but anything above that deep place, he is desperate to be straight. Society has introjected into him to idea that straight is good and gay is bad. He sees it everywhere – on television and film, music, literature and everyday life.
He sees that straight is the norm. Straight is good. When he encounters gay it is as a joke, stereotype or derogatory remark. He’s told in church that love between a man & woman is the only valid form of romantic or sexual love a person can experience. Everything around him is incongruent to what is occurring within him. The result is pain, fear, denial and a loss of himself buried deep within.
Change starts with Representation
Then something happened. A change. He was sat at the dining room table, having just finished eating tea with his parents and the adverts between the Simpsons and Hollyoaks were playing. He was chatting with his parents when the tea time soap opera started and the episode focused on a storyline between the character John Paul McQueen and Craig Dean. It was a storyline about a young gay teenager falling in love with his best friend as he worked his way through the coming out process. The young teenager watched as John Paul McQueen over months and years came to terms with who he was. That storyline was the initial spark that gave a slimmer of hope and a burst of imagination.
The young gay slowly found more and more positive and nuanced representations of homosexuality and the LGBT community. Those representations combined with his budding experiences gave him the courage to abandon his denial and come out of the closet for his friends, family and for the rest of the world to see. It was a long process, close to eight years with many hardships along the way including many bouts of anxiety and depression and two instances of genuine suicidal thoughts. But those representations that he saw in TV and films such as Shelter and the many stories he read about other gays living their best lives helped him progress much further much faster. Slowly opening up and talking about his experiences, not just with his friends and family, but other LGBT folk helped him reach a point of acceptance and I’ve never looked back.
That is why I believe talking about mental health is essential. It matters. In the same way that representation and personal stories helped LGBT folk come out and move progress forward, the same can be achieved with mental health and reducing the stigma around it.
I accepted I had anxiety by watching a video by The Mighty, which described all the symptoms I had experienced for years. From the moment I watched that video on YouTube, like when I watched Hollyoaks, I wanted to find out more.
I read, listened and watched content on anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and much more. I slowly delved into who I was, what my struggles meant and how they had affected my life so far. Once again, I found the courage to be vulnerable and to speak out about my experiences with anxiety and depression in a similar way I had when I came out as gay.
And through sharing those experiences, I discovered the privilege and honour of listening to stories of others around me, who were dealing with issues from anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm and bipolar disorder.
Let the dominoes fall
Talking openly about topics like mental health in the first domino that inspires others to open up about their struggles and with each falling domino, more people speak out. With each story told, each status likes, picture shared, and video that goes viral, the more that is known. The more that is known, the more than can be done to improve our human existence. That goes for LGBT rights, issues affecting BAME, human rights and it also goes for mental health issues.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates othersNelson Mandela
The more I talk about, the more we talk about it, the greater chance we have for making long-lasting positive change. It is only the first step, but all great change comes with that first step.