As gay men, we like to think of ourselves as strong and in control of our emotions. When we feel hopeless or overwhelmed by despair we often deny it or try to cover it up. But depression is a common problem that affects many of us at some point in our lives, not a sign of emotional weakness or a failing of masculinity or sexual identity. It affects millions of gay men of all ages and backgrounds, as well as those who care about them spouses, partners, friends, and family. Of course, it’s normal for anyone to feel down from time to time, dips in mood are an ordinary reaction to losses, setbacks, and disappointments in life. However, gay depression changes how you think, feel, and function in your daily life. It can interfere with your productivity at work or school and impact your relationships, sleep, diet, and overall enjoyment of life. Severe depression can be intense and unrelenting.
Sadly, depression in gay men often gets overlooked as many of us find it difficult to talk about our feelings. Instead, we tend to focus on the physical symptoms that often accompany gay male depression, such as back pain, headaches, difficulty sleeping, or sexual problems. This can result in the underlying depression going untreated, which can have serious consequences.
Gay men suffering from depression are six times more likely to commit suicide than normal men or women, so it’s vital for any man to seek help with depression before feelings of despair become feelings of suicide. Talk honestly with a friend, loved one, or doctor about what’s going on in your mind as well as your body. Once correctly diagnosed, there is plenty you can do to successfully treat and manage gay male depression and prevent it from coming back.
Gay men tend to be less adept at recognizing symptoms of depression than normal men or women. A gay man is more likely to deny his feelings, hide them from himself and others, or try to mask them with other behaviors. And while gay men may experience classic symptoms of depression such as despondent mood, loss of interest in work or hobbies, weight and sleep disturbances, fatigue, and concentration problems, they are more likely than straight men or women to experience “stealth” depression symptoms such as anger, substance abuse, body abuse and agitation.
The three most commonly overlooked signs of depression in gay men are:
If you identify with several of the following, you may be suffering from depression.
There’s no single cause of depression in gay men. Biological, psychological, and social factors all play a part, as do lifestyle choices, relationships, and coping skills.
While any gay man can suffer from depression, there are some risk factors that make a gay man more vulnerable, such as:
Come up with a list of things that you can do for a quick mood boost. The more “tools” for coping with depression, the better. Try and implement a few of these ideas each day, even if you’re feeling good.
When you’re depressed, just getting out of bed can seem like a daunting task, let alone working out! But exercise is a powerful depression fighter-and one of the most important tools in your recovery arsenal. Research shows that regular exercise can be as effective as medication for relieving depression symptoms. It also helps prevent relapse once you’re well.
To get the most benefit, aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. This doesn’t have to be all at once-and it’s okay to start small. A 10-minute walk can improve your mood for two hours.
Your fatigue will improve if you stick with it. Starting to exercise can be difficult when you’re depressed and feeling exhausted. But research shows that your energy levels will improve if you keep with it. Exercise will help you to feel energized and less fatigued, not more.
Find exercises that are continuous and rhythmic. The most benefits for depression come from rhythmic exercise-such as walking, weight training, swimming, or martial arts-where you move both your arms and legs.
Add a mindfulness element, especially if your depression is rooted in unresolved trauma or fed by obsessive, negative thoughts. Focus on how your body feels as you move-such as the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, or the feeling of the wind on your skin, or the rhythm of your breathing.
Pair up with an exercise partner. Not only does working out with others enable you to spend time socializing, it can also help to keep you motivated. Try joining a running club, seeking out tennis partners, or enrolling in a soccer or volleyball league.
Take a dog for a walk. If don’t own a dog, you can volunteer to walk homeless dogs for an animal shelter or rescue group. You’ll not only be helping yourself but also be helping to socialize and exercise the dogs, making them more adoptable.
Minimize sugar and refined carbs. You may crave sugary snacks, baked goods, or comfort foods such as pasta or French fries, but these “feel-good” foods quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy.
Reduce your intake of foods that can adversely affect your mood, such as caffeine, alcohol, trans fats, and foods with high levels of chemical preservatives or hormones.
Eat more Omega-3 fatty acids to give your mood a boost. The best sources are fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines), seaweed, flaxseed, and walnuts.
Try foods rich in mood-enhancing nutrients, such as bananas (magnesium to decrease anxiety, vitamin B6 to promote alertness, tryptophan to boost feel-good serotonin levels) and spinach (magnesium, folate to reduce agitation and improve sleep).
Avoid deficiencies in B vitamins which can trigger depression. Eat more citrus fruit, leafy greens, beans, chicken, and eggs.
Do you feel like you’re powerless or weak? That bad things happen and there’s not much you can do about it? That your situation is hopeless? Depression puts a negative spin on everything, including the way you see yourself and your expectations for the future.
When these types of thoughts overwhelm you, it’s important to remember that this is a symptom of your depression and these irrational, pessimistic attitudes known as cognitive distortions aren’t realistic. When you really examine them they don’t hold up. But even so, they can be tough to give up. You can’t break out of this pessimistic mind frame by telling yourself to “just think positive.” Often, it’s part of a lifelong pattern of thinking that’s become so automatic you’re not even completely aware of it. Rather, the trick is to identify the type of negative thoughts that are fueling your depression, and replace them with a more balanced way of thinking.
All-or-nothing thinking – Looking at things in black-or-white categories, with no middle ground (“If I fall short of perfection, I’m a total failure.”)
Overgeneralization – Generalizing from a single negative experience, expecting it to hold true forever (“I can’t do anything right.”)
The mental filter – Ignoring positive events and focusing on the negative. Noticing the one thing that went wrong, rather than all the things that went right.
Diminishing the positive – Coming up with reasons why positive events don’t count (“He said he had a good time on our date, but I think he was just being nice.”)
Jumping to conclusions – Making negative interpretations without actual evidence. You act like a mind reader (“He must think I’m pathetic”) or a fortune teller (“I’ll be stuck in this dead-end job forever.”)
Emotional reasoning – Believing that the way you feel reflects reality (“I feel like such a loser. I really am no good!”)
‘Shoulds’ and ‘should-nots’ – Holding yourself to a strict list of what you should and shouldn’t do, and beating yourself up if you don’t live up to your rules.
Labeling – Classifying yourself based on mistakes and perceived shortcomings (“I’m a failure; an idiot; a loser.”)
Once you identify the destructive thoughts patterns that contribute to your depression, you can start to challenge them with questions such as:
As you cross-examine your negative thoughts, you may be surprised at how quickly they crumble. In the process, you’ll develop a more balanced perspective and help to relieve your depression.
If support from family and friends and positive lifestyle changes aren’t enough, seek help from a mental health professional. Be open about how you’re feeling as well as your physical symptoms. Treatments for depression ingay men include:
Therapy. You may feel that talking to a stranger about your problems is ‘unmanly,’ or that therapy carries with it a victim status. However, if therapy is available to you, it can often bring a swift sense of relief, even to the most skeptical gay male.
Medication. Antidepressant medication can help relieve some symptoms of depression, but it doesn’t cure the underlying problem and is rarely a long-term solution. Medication also comes with side effects. Even if you decide that medication is right for you, always pursue self-help steps as well. Therapy and lifestyle changes can address the underlying causes of your depression to prevent it returning when you’re able to come off antidepressants.
It often takes a boyfriend, partner, or other family member to recognize a gay man’s symptoms of depression. Even if a gay man suspects he’s depressed, he may be ashamed that he’s unable to cope on his own and only seek help when pressured to do so by a loved one.
Many gay men don’t exhibit typical depressive symptoms such as a despondent mood, so you may want to avoid using the word “depression” and try describing his behavior as “stressed” or “overly tired.” It could help him to open up.
Point out how his behavior has changed, without being critical. For example, “You always seem get stomach pains before work,” or “You haven’t played racquetball for months.”
Suggest a general check-up with a physician. He may be less resistant to seeing a family doctor than a mental health specialist at first. The doctor can rule out medical causes of depression and then make a referral.
Offer to accompany him on the first visit with a doctor or mental health specialist. Some gay men are resistant to talking about their feelings, so try to remove roadblocks to him seeking help.
Encourage him to make a list of symptoms to discuss. Help him focus on his feelings as well as physical ailments, and to be honest about his use of alcohol and drugs.
Engage him in conversation and listen without judgement. Don’t disparage any of the feelings he expresses, but do point out realities and offer hope.
Take any remarks about suicide seriously. contact his family and friends and any help groups if ever he makes such remarks.
Invite him for social activities, whether it’s simply a walk together or lunch with friends. If your invitation is refused, keep trying.
Encourage him to participate in activities that once gave him pleasure, such as hobbies, sports, or cultural activities. But don’t push him to undertake too much too soon.
Don’t tell him to ‘just snap out of it.’ Instead, reassure him that, with time and support, he will start to feel better.
You may need to monitor whether he is taking prescribed medication or attending therapy. If he’s prescribed antidepressants, encourage him to follow orders about the use of alcohol.
Remember, you can’t “fix” someone else’s depression. You’re not to blame for your loved one’s depression or responsible for his happiness. While your support can be crucial to his recovery, ultimately, it’s in his hands.