So I recently came out – for those of you who know me, you’re wondering, “What do you mean? You came out as gay years ago!” Well this was a different coming out – this time I came out to admit that I suffered from a mental illness – depression. It was a culmination of factors that drove me to acknowledge my mental health issue – and I’d waited a long time to say the words out loud, but now I am happy to acknowledge that I suffer from depression.
So what has that got to do with being gay? Well funnily enough, publicly admitting that I suffer from a mental health issue is no less challenging than coming out as gay all those years ago. Some of the experiences of coming out were negative, however many of them were surprisingly positive. It struck me that there were some direct parallels with both coming out as gay and acknowledging that I suffer from depression, so in this post, I hope to help others also feel a little more comfortable in their journey to “coming out”.
Some people are just fine about it – It was wonderfully reassuring when I shared the fact that I was gay with a close friend only for them to say, “I know!” Likewise, when I told my closest friends that I was suffering from depression, they were incredibly supportive, and made me feel happy to have shared my “dark secret.” It was a huge relief to share, but even better to feel that you are still “normal” and a valued friend colleague / family member.
It won’t go away – I struggled for years on how to acknowledge my sexuality, but ultimately felt OK to come out of the closet – see my story of coming out at work here . It took just as much effort to publicly acknowledge my depression. I had dealt with – or at least so I thought – my issues along the way, but at a certain point, with so much pressure in the modern workplace, it was better to acknowledge my condition. Only then can you start to address the causes and get back to a healthy state.
Some people don’t talk to you – I have always been open and honest – perhaps at times, too honest. When I “outed” myself, the vast majority of folks at work were embracing of my sexuality. But some – for moral or religious reasons – felt uncomfortable, and subsequently kept me at arms’ length. The same thing happened when I openly discussed my depression – because many don’t understand, they feel uncomfortable, and avoid you. Top tip: don’t cut the person off, they are no different than before you knew they have a mental illness!!
Some people tell you that they came out, too – There are other people out there like you, and when I came out, it was genuinely heart-warming to hear from other LGBTQ+ folks who were “just like me”. It made me realise that in and out of work, I was not alone. Likewise, I have been offered support and wisdom from may peers, colleagues and friends who have also or are still facing mental health issues. “You are not alone!”
It’s not contagious – For those who kept their distance for fear of “guilt by association”, I can assure my readers that being gay is not contagious! Attitudes to sexuality have dramatically shifted for the better since I came out, but attitudes to mental health still need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the modern world. You can’t catch depression, or stress or anxiety. And if you support a colleague, friend or family member who is faced with mental health issues, you won’t become responsible for their mental health – but your support may well help them.
You can’t undo it – Once I’d said the words, “I’m gay”, I couldn’t un-say them, even if I wanted to. Over time, I realised that I am GLAD that I said them, I am proud to be who I am. This has given me some courage in admitting my mental health challenge, because I know that by being open and honest, I will ultimately become a better person (even if it feels terribly uncomfortable right now).
It is better out than in! – At the end of the day, despite the challenges I faced as a gay man, being true to myself made me a happier person who was better able to add to society, deliver at my job with greater confidence. Of course, when I first “broke the news”, it might have felt cringingly uncomfortable, but being gay is part of who I am. In many ways, acknowledging my depression is just the same – it’s part of me, to be managed and part of what made me who I am today. I don’t regret or feel ashamed of suffering from mental health issues, but by posting this blog, I hope that I – and others – will continue to feel more comfortable about discussing this really important topic.