Everyday there are factors that play a part in the lived experiences of gay and bisexual men of color. From racism to homophobia, LGBTQ people are constantly under attack and under scrutiny — for the way we express ourselves, for the way we dress, for the way we breathe. When layering in the lack of representation and body diversity in media, the lack of visibility of healthy relationships and the lack of safe spaces, one can’t help but look at the overall impact on mental and emotional health.
Because of all these effects on the psyche, maintaining mental health continues to be a major — yet unspoken — issue among gay men of color, a community that sees heightened rates of suicide, depression and other undiagnosed conditions. Mental health is defined as “a state of wellbeing in which an individual realizes his own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his community,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Yet for gay and bisexual men of color, overall wellbeing is consistently challenged. So often these men are faced with the concept of “not good enough.” Despite efforts, “gay” for many still translates to “white, fit, affluent and male.” And even beyond that, many face “not buff enough,” “not tall enough,” “not rich enough,” “not enough followers” and, quite honestly, “not white enough.”
When looking at maintaining mental health, there continues to be stigma and discrimination surrounding individuals seeking mental health care. We also see the disproportionate impact of substance use disorders (SUDs) and HIV among gay and bisexual men of color, particularly Black men, often as a result of many of these issues. Because of this, proactively addressing mental health is imperative.
Without mental health, we cannot be healthy.
With that in mind, here are 11 tips for maintaining mental health and wellness:
1. Talk to someone.
Sometimes living this life can be hard. There’s nothing wrong with talking to someone. Misunderstanding and stigma surrounding mental health are widespread. Despite all the effective treatments for mental disorders, there is a belief that they are untreatable or that people with mental disorders are difficult, not intelligent or are incapable of making decisions. Not true. There is nothing wrong with seeking support, and there’s nothing wrong with you.
2. Take a break.
Log out of your social media, leave your smartphone at home for a day, disconnect from emails, alerts and other interruptions. Spend time doing something fun and embrace being in the moment. Sometimes you need to take a moment. Step away and take that moment.
3. Celebrate your strengths.
You’ve got plenty of good things going on! Is it your eyes? Your sense of humor? Your banging huevos rancheros recipe? Whatever they are, find those things, love ‘em and flaunt ‘em!
4. Take care of yourself.
Be it a good night’s sleep, a healthy meal or a nice walk outside, do what you need to do to make sure you are well and feeling good.
5. Connect with others.
Find people who make you smile and who you can have a sincere good time with. Your presence is enough. Connect with genuine people with healthy, shared interests.
6. Give yourself permission to be human.
Embrace your skinny arms or pudgy tummy. You might not be the richest or the cutest or the smartest, and that’s fine. You’re you. Embrace your own journey and know that where you are and who you are is enough.
7. Acknowledge how you feel.
When you can speak honestly to how you feel, you can begin to take appropriate steps. Be it fear, anxiety, loneliness or confusion, recognizing it allows for repairing it.
8. The simple act of smiling and laughing has been proven to enhance one’s mood.
Whether it’s cat videos on YouTube or binge-watching your favorite childhood cartoon, take some time to get a good laugh in!
9. Write it out.
If something has been bothering you, write it out. Getting all those swirling thoughts out of your head and onto paper can reduce symptoms of depression and, from my experience, can really help get a handle on thoughts that seem to keep repeating themselves.
10. Forgive yourself. Forgive others.
It may not happen overnight, but being able to process and move forward from experiences from your past is worth the work.
11. Simply take a moment and focus on your breathing.
Intentional deep breathing relaxes the body and the mind. Taking slow, deep breaths reduces feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. When in doubt, breathe!