Mental Health

Here Are 5 Ways That Staying In the Closest Can Actually Damage Your Health

By Julia Fox

While a major hurdle for LGBT rights in the western hemisphere has finally been overcome in the past few years (legalization of gay marriage in both the United States and the United Kingdom), it looks less and less hopeful that same tolerance can be achieved globally.

In former communist bloc countries, the period for modest LGBT freedoms was brief, and homophobia is still widespread. Homosexuality is often considered an abnormality and in some cases, prosecuted under the criminal law.

These countries have a vast population of LGBT members who have lived in the closet for most of their lives while obliged to form traditional families. Spending the majority of their lives attempting to pass as heterosexuals to gain social approval and often engaging in secret same-sex relationships, these gay men and women end up with irreversible damage to their physical and mental health.

‘Coming out is no longer a matter of popular debate, but a matter of public health,’ claim scientists from Louis H. Lafontaine Hospital in Montreal.

But for some who spent most of their lives in the closet, it might be just impossible.

Whether it is the fear of being rejected by their now grown children, being criminalized by the homophobic society or ostracised by their own community, or the strong belief they would be unable to rebuild their lives with their new identity, these men and women are too broken to start anew.

Here are the main ailments that are likely to develop if you are forced to keep your sexual identity a secret from society and often from yourself:

  1. Dissociative Identity Disorder. Notable psychiatrist Sullivan and Roughton have discovered that closeted individuals routinely separate their attractions and feelings for the persons of the same sex from their identity. That means these men and women find their desires so unacceptable that they keep them out of their conscious awareness, separating their sexual identity from the rest of their persona. Blocking the anxiety-provoking thoughts about their sexuality forces them to lead a double life and are very often unaware of it.
  1. Chronic Depression. Increased fear and withdrawal from friends and relatives and the chronic stress of hiding one’s sexuality can lead to excess amounts of cortisol in the body, which contributes to severe depression as well as the general ‘wear and tear’ of the body. Scientists at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress at Louis H. Lafontaine Hospital in Montreal found that staying in the closet weakens your whole immune system in addition to leading to chronicle depression.
  1. Self-disgust & self-hatred. Socialised into thinking that being non-heterosexual is somehow ‘mad,’ ‘bad,’ ‘wrong’ or ‘immoral,’ many closeted gay and lesbian individuals develop internalized homophobia. They find that they do not belong and do not fit in either the ‘straight world’ or the ‘gay world.’ This painful feeling often leads to self-disgust, self-hatred and contempt for the more open LGBT members.
  1. Low self-esteem and negative self-view. Both can lead to avoiding fulfilling relationships with others. Spending the majority of their lives attempting to pass as heterosexuals to gain social approval, many closeted individuals develop low self-esteem and negative body image, which brings with them such issues as fear of intimacy, deep shame about their sexual experiences and inability to develop emotional intimacy, psychologists claim.
  1. Alcohol/drug-abuse & suicidal thoughts. Growing increasingly withdrawn and depressed, closeted individuals often follow unsafe sexual practices and engage in other destructive, risk-taking behaviours. Being ostracised by the community, fearing shame and physical torture and imprisonment, creating heterosexual families and dissociating themselves from gay population altogether leads many to a life of substance abuse and addictions. Constantly haunted by suicidal thoughts, many consider ending their lives.

My relationship with a closeted gay man, Sasha (who was actually my husband’s lover years before I married him and I chronicle in my memoir And Then There Were Three: Sixty Seven Letter to Sasha) opened my eyes to the many aspects of homosexuality and the life paths that LGBT men and women choose in the parts of the world where homosexuality is still considered an abnormality.

The freedoms that sexual minorities enjoy in democratic countries today are precious and unheard of in such places as Ukraine, Russia, Belorussia, Azerbaijan and other post-Soviet territories. Giving American LGBT members a glimpse into the lives of those who are less fortunate and still struggling for their rights will be an eye-opening read for many.

Julia Fox immigrated from Russia in her late teens, settling in the United States in the early 90s. She published two books of poetry before leaving her home country, both in Russian, and published two more in English language after immigrating. And Then There Were Three: Sixty Seven Letters to Sasha is her first autobiographical memoir. 

For more information about And Then There Were Three: Sixty-Seven Letters to Sasha, you can visit Julia Fox’s websiteFacebook and Twitter pages.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Carlos Luz/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

 

Why Young People Should Care About PTSD (It Doesn’t Just Impact Soldiers)

By Stephen Goth

Posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a mental illness that can develop after a person is exposed to one or more traumatic events, such as sexual assault, warfare, traffic collisions, terrorism or other threats on a person’s life.

Symptoms can include disturbing recurring flashbacks, avoidance or numbing of memories of the event, and hyperarousal. 

These symptoms tend to disturb the everyday actions in a person’s life. Whether it be relationships, friendships, performance at school, performance in a job, or even something as simple as sleeping, nothing feels the same when you’re actively living with PTSD.

Many times, people who develop PTSD are at a young age, and are unaware of the traumatic damage their brain is enduring. PTSD can form from something as simple as a single event i.e. divorce, or even the collection of various traumatic occurrences, such as bullying.

According to Matthew Tull, a Posttraumatic stress disorder expert, many people with PTSD experience memory-related difficulties.

They may have difficulty recalling certain parts of their traumatic event, or alternatively, memories may be vivid as if the person is reliving the event in the present.

People with PTSD may also have problems overcoming their fear response to thoughts, memories or situations that are reminiscent of their traumatic event. Due to the hippocampus’ role in memory and emotional experience, it is thought that some of the problems people with PTSD experience may lie in the hippocampus.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Lesley Goth who runs her own private practice outside of Denver, CO, specializes in treating clients who are diagnosed with PTSD.

She believes when trauma occurs at a young age, long-term effects show up in all social, emotional, and physical areas of their lives.

For example, trauma that is experienced at a young age, can result in poor school performance, poor social interaction, and an overall feeling of lack of safety, which can ultimately lead to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.

When the feeling of lack of safety grows and grows and eventually becomes so intense, the victim of trauma turns towards dysfunctional coping mechanisms. Many addictions stem from the heavy need to numb out the suffering and agony that is caused from the memories of the traumatic events.

This is an important issue in today’s society, as many people try to cope with trauma through substances, and a variety of addictions. The most recent one being social media.

“Social media is a way that people can numb out from their pain and live in a false reality that is much more tolerable,” Dr. Goth said.

In conclusion, treatment is possible, and therapy can often times repair the unprocessed wounds.

EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, is a frequently used type of therapy used to help process unresolved issues.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for you us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Beverly/ Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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