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Why I am admitting my mental health issues

Why I am admitting my mental health issues

When Angelina Jolie talked openly about her mastectomy, many people commended her on her bravery. I have always admired her courage. From the screen to real life she has had a positive impact on so many women’s lives.

The mere fact she was comfortable enough to talk about her cancer fears will give other women the confidence they need to fight their cancer risks head-on.

Like cancer, mental health has become a major challenge for health systems worldwide. And while many of us are bold enough to talk about it, there is still a big culture of silence on this issue.

A few years back, British gay actor, TV presenter, author and comic Stephen Fry came out openly about being bipolar. To many people with similar personality problems, it was a great relief to see a well-respected star sharing his struggle.

Around the same time, I met a very energetic lady from the University of West England at a National Union of Students conference. And she shared with me her passion for raise mental health issues among young students in the UK.

She was just 19 when I met her but a few weeks after meeting her, she emailed to say she had just been elected as a student representative on her campus and her main campaign would be around mental health.

I worried for her. I felt as a young lady, she should be devouting her time to her lectures and possibly more positive things in life. But I now realize my fear for her was not about her, it was about me.

As a black, openly HIV positive, gay man, I was already dealing plenty of labels in my life. These labels are sometimes over whelming and restricting. However there was one big issue in my life I had refused to address. And that was the fact that I was at crisis point with my own mental health problems.

One in four people in Britain have mental health issues of some kind each year. But virtually nobody ever discusses it. It’s a big stigma to say ‘I am suffering from anxiety or depression’.

I have low attention span and sometimes hear voices telling me I am worthless – all of which affects my relationships with those around me and the way I see myself.

However, I am certainly not alone.

A briefing by Stonewall UK shows mental health issues are a common problem for gay people. Their research reveals: ‘In the last year, 3% of gay men have attempted to take their own life. This increases to 5% of black and minority ethnic men, 5% of bisexual men and 7% of gay and bisexual men with a disability. In the same period, 0.4% of all men attempted to take their own life.’

We all develop many strategies to dealing with the burden mental health poses to us. And for many escape takes the form of drugs and sex, which may make them even more vulnerable.

On the gay scene today, drugs are replacing therapy. Sex is filling the space of support. I am not judging others. But the challenge this brings is that we fail to address the root of the problem. And when the sex is done, the drugs wear off, the issue stares us in the face again.

To others, the confidence to be able to access care and support from friends, families, loved ones and even the health system has helped them understand how to cope and thrive.

For many years I didn’t seek help, fearing to wake up from the reality of my challenges. I refused to accept there is an alternative to the voice I hear, there are better ways to deal with my fears and my friends and loved ones would help me through life journey.

But in the last couple of weeks I have started to realize that what seems impossible in life is possible if you take a different view. Until a few months ago, I would never have considered taking up therapy, or wanting to write about the fact that, though many people see me as being strong and having self confidence, beneath that is a very timid, insecure and vulnerable human being.

The reality is I have people who cared about my wellbeing and that for a period in my life, I had a man that believed in me. That has helped me to gradually start dealing with the issues.

In May, we mark Mental Health Awareness Month in the US, UK and other places around the world.

Let’s be open like Angelina Jolie, Stephen Fry and my inspiring student friend. Let’s take a stand and support someone or even be open about out the state of our own mental health.

We will show others they are not alone and they can get help.