A new survey has found disturbingly high levels of depression, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts among gay men.
FS magazine, which is published by gay men's health charity GMFA, surveyed over 600 gay men to learn more about the experiences of men who have experienced depression, poor mental health or who have attempted suicide.
The survey found that 24% of gay men admitted to trying to kill themselves, while 54% admitted to having suicidal thoughts. For those who responded, 70% said low self-esteem was the main reason for their depression and suicidal thoughts. Other factors included relationship issues (56%), isolation (53%), not feeling attractive (49%).
Often stresses related to sexuality lead to men’s depression, with 41% of gay men saying that their sexuality contributed to their poor mental or emotional health. 27% cited homophobic bullying; 22% mentioned struggling to come out and 21% said that rejection by their family had been a factor.
The survey also found that gay men who are diagnosed with HIV experience high rates of depression and suicidal thoughts.
Simon, 36 from Oxford, is one of the many HIV-positive gay men who responded to the FS survey: “I was diagnosed with HIV in January 2012. I was having lots of risky sex and I knew eventually it would happen but didn’t really care. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed that reality set in. I wasn’t ready for it and became depressed. It affected my job. It affected my social life and I became a recluse," he said.
Londoner Anthony, 26, told FS that after his diagnosis he couldn’t handle it: “About three months after I was told I was HIV-positive I tried to overdose. I didn’t cope at all with being told I had the virus. I thought my life was over and suicide was the best option. Luckily my attempt failed.”
When HIV-positive respondents were asked what were the main reasons they felt suicidal or why they attempted suicide, 66% said ‘Living with HIV’ was the main issue with ‘Low self-esteem' (60%) and 'relationship issues' (39%) also common reasons.
“HIV remains one of the most stigmatised of all health conditions,” said Matthew Hodson, Chief Executive of GMFA. “Rates of depression among gay men with HIV are twice as high as they are among other gay men, affecting about one in every four men. And depression in men with HIV can lead to poor adherence, which can have a major impact on their physical health as well.
“Depression also has an impact on someone’s likelihood of becoming HIV-positive,” Hodson said.
“A recent study showed that men with depressive symptoms were more likely to have unprotected sex, and to have unprotected sex with several partners. Tackling the mental health challenges faced by gay men is crucial if we are going to reduce the high levels of sexual risk-taking and high incidence of HIV in our community.”
The new issue of FS magazine, ‘Gay men and the battle to be happy’ can now be read for free online.
Need help? Samaritans (08457 90 90 90) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you're feeling, or if you're worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at [email protected]