Over the past couple of months, several young, same gender loving, successful, driven, caring and religious men have begun sharing with me their mental health statuses.
In this process I have come to understand that same gender loving men (i.e. Black gay men) are dealing with an epidemic that our religious communities, as well as society as a whole, are failing to address: depression.
As these individuals started sharing with me their “secrets,” I began to wonder how many more live in shame about their mental health state.
Furthermore, what are others—most specifically the church—doing to support them?
According to a 2011 report highlighted by the Center for Advancing Health (CFAH), same gender loving men deal with with depression at higher rates than the general population. The report credits the “harassment, discrimination and negative feelings about homosexuality that black gay and bisexual men often experience” as the cause of what I am labeling as this new epidemic.
Louis F. Graham, DrPH, a Kellogg Health Scholars postdoctoral fellow in the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor was the lead author of the study. According to Graham, 54 African American gay or bisexual men were interviewed via online survey.
The men surveyed answered questions regarding depression and anxiety symptoms, as well as how often they experienced harassment and discrimination.
The men also answered questions regarding their feelings about their own sexuality, states Amy Sutton, contributing writer for the CFAH. However, some skeptics felt as though this report did not provide a clear understanding of the issues these men faced due to the small sampling of participants.
Faced with the realities of this report, along with the testimonies of these friends, I decided to engage this issue and topic in the best way I knew how. I wrote about it.
As a contributing writer for TheGrio.com, I have the special ability to engage topics and discussions often ignored in other arenas. I found myself intrigued by this topic, the issues surrounding it and my own perception of its status as an epidemic.
What I learned was eye-opening.
I recognize the weight of the realities: mental health issues are somewhat taboo in the black community, especially with religious folks. In the same way that some have adopted a theology of “pray the gay away,” some have adopted “pray the cray away,” a view that equates mental health realities and struggles with insanity and craziness. For some, depression and other forms of mental health struggles are nothing but Satan, the devil, designed to attack and destroy God’s chosen.
Now, let me be clear that this analysis is in no way a value judgment on those who believe in the existence of evil, or Satan for that matter. But it must be said that in order for the church to be the church, something has to change, or we will continue to lose those for whom we are called to care.
This report and my interviews with individuals for my Grio story support my hypothesis that exclusionary, anti-gay theologies contribute to the realities of SGL depression.
I should clarify that the causes of depression are complex and vary from person to person. For some, depression is not brought on by outside factors or influences. However, others develop depression as a result of external factors, including trauma, strife, stress & tribulation, or circumstances caused by discrimination.
I am in no way a clinical or psychological expert, but I cannot help but to believe that in one way or another, the slanted, abusive, vilifying, and exclusionary theology of churches—and in this case black churches—has brought a good portion of SGL individuals to a point of suicide and depression.
Whenever one has heard, over and over again, that they are an abomination, they are no good, and they are unlovable in God’s eyes—simply because of who they are, who they love and how they live—of course they are prone to develop a depressive perspective and defeatist attitude towards life.
I have been there myself: though I never adopted suicidal thoughts, I did have many other signs and symptoms often associated with depression.
For me, it was seasonal depression. And for several years I embarked upon a mental health regimen of therapy, journaling and self-evaluation. Therapy saved my life. And so did seminary.
The same cannot be said for so many others. Darnell L. Moore, a writer and activist in New York, shared with me that he overcame by separating himself from the religious institutions he loved dearly.
“When you are in a dark place, people will send you to church,” he said. “I had to leave in order to save myself. Leaving saved my life. I was most depressed when I was in the church jumping around, shouting.”
So what do we do? I must admit I do not have a simple solution.
SGL individuals are dying. We are neglected, overlooked and victimized by the very church communities that promise to support and care for us.
Let me be clear, there are support systems—some of them churches—that provide affirmation and support for SGL individuals and others living with depression. Organizations like Many Voices provide a much-needed antidote to the problems outlined here.
I am of the belief that regardless of one’s religious and theological beliefs and positions, religious institutions and leaders have a responsibility to care for the whole of a person, and every person within that community.
I hold out hope that God’s love, presence, power and touch is greater, stronger even, than our hate, neglect and abusive theology, actions and language.
Pray with me!
Image via flickr user Vrsinsky