January often comes with a refocus of what our goals, aspirations and resolutions for the year are. The problem with new year resolutions is that the focus tends to be on external achievements, while our internal world particularly our own mental health is often left unattended until a crisis point. So as we enter a new year, shouldn’t we all take a pledge to look after our mental health?
Evidence has consistently shown that gay men are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide. Whereas research from University College, London, has found significantly higher rates of mental illness among gay men than their straight peers.
Mental health is a sensitive issue among Black gay people. There are not many safe places to discuss mental health. We are taught to keep it to ourselves and not talk about it. Acknowledging that we need support is seen as a sign of weakness, after all as men we should be able to deal with it, right? Without sufficient support or safe places to talk about issues like what it means to be a black gay/queer/SGL man, the issues surrounding the trauma of isolation, possible years of secrecy, the impact of shame and how that may conflict with our understanding of our cultural identities, can have a significant effect on our mental health. When your mental health has no healthy support system, this can be start of start self destructive behaviours, that can have a further erosive effect on your mental health.
So what can you do to build and maintain your own mental health?
- Value and respect the fact that you are a totally unique individual, with your own path to follow. Believe in who you are, what you think and believe, your gifts and talents, and what you have to offer to those around you.
- Refuse to give into negative feelings of anxiety, self doubt or insecurity. In fact, “fake it till you make it” is often good advice … So, ignore how you feel, and act the way you want to be. Challenge the negative inner voice in your head. The voice of shame, self doubt or insecurity can be powerful and persuasive and can prevent you from achieving what you want. Be kind to yourself and tell yourself that the inner voice is wrong and you can do what you want to do.
- Don’t pay any attention to what others think about you. The most important judgment should be yours, and yours alone. If you live in constant fear of what others think about you, it will only hold you back from realizing your potential. Also, you’re not a clone of others as each of us is different. Don’t be afraid to be unique or to stand out against the crowd.
- Accept that you have good points, and areas for growth. We’re all a mix of different qualities, and flaws, and traits. We all make mistakes – it’s what you do with them that matters – so embrace the fact you’re human and won’t always get it right.
- Develop a tough skin and don’t take insults personally. Look back and laugh – don’t cower – or criticise yourself. It won’t help if you’re sensitive or worried all the time. It’s better to forgive yourself, and then move on again. Learn to understand what is yours and what belongs to others. It’s not always about you.
- Seek to enjoy this moment, and to live life in the present. Be grateful for the small things, and savour all you have.
- Have a strong and supportive external support system. By having at least one person in your life who truly has your back; who truly accepts the real you, warts and all. By having at least one person in your life to whom you can be honest and who is honest with you, without the fear of judgement or the loss of confidentiality can be a truly freeing experience. This person can help you vent out negative thoughts and emotions and put things into prospective.
- Regular physical activity improves psychological well-being and can reduce depression and anxiety. Joining an exercise group or a gym can also reduce loneliness, since it connects you with a new set of people sharing a common goal.
- Taking up a hobby brings balance to your life by allowing you to do something you enjoy because you want to do it, free of the pressure of everyday tasks. It also keeps your brain active.
- Goals don’t have to be ambitious. You might decide to finish that book you started three years ago, take part in a 10km run for charity, to learn to salsa, play an instrument, to call your friends instead of waiting for the phone to ring. Whatever goal you set, reaching it will build confidence and a sense of satisfaction.
Reading this list makes maintaining healthy mental health sound easy, while often the reality is that self-care is often the thing most people will find hard to maintain. The trauma of the rejection for being gay, years of secrecy, or isolation can make the above steps almost impossible to achieve without external support.
So if you find that you don’t have positive external help where you feel able to access support unavailable, you could seek some professional help. Going to a counsellor can give you a safe, non judgemental place to talk and over time develop mental wellbeing. They can be an essential resource to be heard and begin the process of maintaining good mental health.
So as we welcome 2017, make space in your life for your own mental wellbeing. Be good to yourself as the path of good mental health starts from within.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” –Audre Lorde
Trojan Gordon is a qualified counsellor working integratively in the London borough of Croydon. His main area of work is with young people aged 11 – 25.
Other interest include entering 10km & half marathons runs and traveling.