Speaking beyond a taboo: Depression in black gay men

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depression

depressionDepression in black gay men.

Black men who experience same-sex attractions face numerous obstacles, which can be felt from their first realization as boys or adolescents, through adulthood. Researchers suggest that one of the most important stages in the development of a person, especially boys, is that moment of change, when hormones are altering the mind and body, and when many are not just questioning, but experimenting with their sexuality.

At that time of change, many who have struggled with their sexuality, particularly a same-sex attraction, may feel forced to suppress and deny it. Many men can trace back to a single point or moment when they had to make a conscious decision to conform to what their parents, friends, family, and church said to them about same-sex relations, thus triggering a long downward spiral into depression. Equally, many men who profess or stridently maintain their heterosexuality may, when asked about having some type of homosexual experience, admit to at least trying it or being in some way curious. Research has also shown that those men in society who exhibit violent reactions or display dislike, disdain or some form of homophobia are likely to have experienced some form of same-sex sexual activity, but because of society’s dictates and expectations, present a hyper-masculinity.

On the other hand, many men who portray a very strong, even violent, response to any hint or indication of anything with same-sex connotations are likely reacting to a strong negative experience in their pasts, either from being forcibly taught to despise anything same-sex or from experiencing sexual abuse as a child or teenager. Many who were sexually abused develop strong negative reactions to cope, assimilate and mask their experience, and struggle inwardly with self-blame, guilt, anger at the violation of their bodies, the betrayal of trust, and the theft of their innocence.

In the book I’m writing, I present the stories of black gay men who have dealt and still are dealing with depression. I’m looking at the causes and focusing on particular elements or contributing factors, including the combination of race, gender and sexual identity; religion and its dictates, sexual abuse and trauma, HIV diagnosis, and growing old as a black gay man. Forums are being planned for New York City on May 17 and Washington, D.C. during the DC Black Pride on May 28. These conversations and discussions about depression as it affects black gay men examines some of the underlying reasons why their pain manifests in behaviors, attitudes and mannerisms. Through the presence of mental health professionals, we hope to begin addressing some of the issues.

Although forums discussing depression in black gay men have been done in some communities, it has not been a sustainable conversation. Many are still uninformed about this treatable mental illness and still labor under the stigmas associated with depression. It is intended for the black gay community across the country to hold a forum that would bring together mental health professionals, community leaders and those willing to share their personal experiences and struggles with depression, HIV, the trauma from sexual abuse, and growing old and dealing with depression to advance the conversation.

A documentary, You Are Not Alone (found on the Web site devoted to the upcoming book (http://www.dbgm.info/) is also being produced. Together with interviews with mental health professionals and individuals who have had experiences with depression, in the documentary stories of black gay men from the book will be dramatized to demonstrate the issue of how black gay men are struggling and dealing with depression.

Research has suggested that depression has its origins in a gene, and can manifest in a person’s life or lie dormant until there is some precipitating external factor for it to be triggered. There is also a suggestion that black gay men who are dealing with depression engage in unsafe sexual behavior because they are not as concerned about the consequences.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention suggests that every nine and a half minutes, someone in the United States commits suicide. What’s more, the Centers for Disease Control in a 2004 report said that black men who have sex with men account for 30 percent, the largest proportion, of all black men diagnosed with HIV.

While blacks represent 13 percent of the U.S. population, 46 percent of the estimated 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States are black. It is estimated that up to 50 percent of people with HIV have a mental illness such as depression, and 13 percent have both mental illness and substance abuse issues, and an estimated one in five black gay men is also dealing with depression. Many people living with HIV are unaware of their status: an estimated 21 percent of people with HIV in the United States do not know their status.

This book, documentary and forums are intended to raise awareness, begin discussion and conversations, and provide information to those who are dealing with depression, and assert to them that they are not alone. To those who witness the lives of those around them, the intent is to afford greater notice and help them intervene before it is too late. There are opportunities for any black gay man–young, middle years, or elderly–to realize that he is empowered and he does not have to live and suffer in silence; he can reach out and ask for help, he can find a therapist or other assistance, and most important, he should not feel discriminated or judged because he is depressed.

 

depressionDepression in black gay men.

Black men who experience same-sex attractions face numerous obstacles, which can be felt from their first realization as boys or adolescents, through adulthood. Researchers suggest that one of the most important stages in the development of a person, especially boys, is that moment of change, when hormones are altering the mind and body, and when many are not just questioning, but experimenting with their sexuality.