A recent death in the music industry started a conversation around mental health. It was the death of Chester Bennington, the lead singer of the popular rock band, Linkin Park. Mental illness is one of those things not given enough attention in our society today. It is something that although silently kills, everyone refuses to admit or call the name like “He that shall not be mentioned”, the villain in the popular book series “Harry Potter”. We only seem to remember and talk passionately about it when a popular figure dies from this swift killer.
The figures are there. The research shows the numbers. The professionals have their proof but it does not seem to get through to the public how real it is. Maybe because it is not something that can be seen physically and that there is a tendency to believe quickly when we can see or feel.
Mental illness in the LGBTQIA community is more common than we imagine. A research showed that LGBTQIA folks are FOUR TIMES more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts and there are higher rates of recurrent major depression in gay men. Being in the closet alone can be the foundation of these; the religious guilt, the societal stigma, having to keep mute while your peers speak ill of the community can also be a cause.
The average member of the community is used to taking an emotion and psychological beat down while they smile and look pretty. The end up at home crying into their pillow at night or in front of the mirror before they shower. The comments from not acting like the stereotypical or socially accepted “real man” or questions like “isn’t that song for girls?” “You do not watch soccer?” “Why do you swing your wrist like that?” These comments stay buried in our heads and cause an untold level of self-consciousness when you are in public. They make you create a personality for the public and another one when you are in the company of your fellow LGBTQIA people. At some point, you no longer know who you are anymore. Your personalities are screwed up and are no longer dependent on where you are but on your mood. Question is, how can you even trust the mood when they swing as they will?
These and much more are they daily subtle struggles that an LGBTQIA member has to go through daily. The major challenge remains how to deal with these issues and most times many community members are going through it alone. The first step, however, is to talk to someone.
There is no emotional outlet for closet members of the LGBTQIA community in Nigeria. Even those who are out are not allowed to be public about what they feel or how they feel about their significant others without backlash. There are no outlets to in mainstream society to share your issues; whether they are problems in relationships or even career struggles. Even on social media or among your family, it remains an issue. Religion doesn’t even help matters as it says you cannot pray to God for help in navigating your sexuality as it can be likened to a thief asking for a good day at work.
If we cannot speak in public about our emotions then we should be able to speak to one another. We need to be educated about mental illness so we can see when community members are going through their struggles. We are all we have got and we need to be each other’s outlet. We need to create a safe space where we can discuss the issues around us.
This silent killer can’t keep having the best of us.
Kene Richard (a pen name) is a Nigerian Writer based in Lagos.