Depression: being different, ethnicity and sexuality

Who you are can make a difference to how you feel about yourself, how you deal with depression, and how people (including professionals) respond to you. We heard from a whole range of people including those who were young, old, male, female, middle-class, working-class, 'Black', Asian, gay and lesbian. For instance, one black man believed there was a fear in British society about Black men being dangerous and sexually rampant, and he still had to cope with other people's negative attitudes in this day and age. He had become skilled at navigating White and Black cultures, but did not feel he belonged anywhere in particular.

One man felt that being Brazilian was an advantage, because he was more comfortable talking about his feelings compared to White British people he had met. An Asian man who came to the UK as a young boy had anxieties at school when he moved to the UK. He felt different as a child, and also struggled with feeling very restricted by his family and wanting more space to do his own thing. One half-Italian woman felt her British aunt and uncle could not express feelings, yet she could scare herself with the level of emotion she expressed at times. Another woman felt that being intelligent can be a disadvantage if it means you neglect your emotions.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual participants had the added stresses of dealing with homophobia (the irrational fear and hatred of homosexuality) from an early age. This meant that they had to come to terms with their sexuality in climates where families, schools, friends and neighbourhoods could be very hostile toward their sexuality. It was particularly difficult for older people we talked with because before the 1970s homosexuality was hardly visible and much less accepted. Even though there is now more community support for people to accept their sexuality and tell others, it can still be confusing and difficult for young people. And while telling people about your sexuality can take a weight off your shoulders, people have to 'come out' to others again and again for the rest of their lives.

'Coming out' can also involve challenges to your wellbeing. For instance, gays and lesbians face possible rejection by family and friends, and need to learn how to negotiate gay social places likes nightclubs. Some gay and lesbian people we interviewed suspected that homophobia was at the heart of some negative attitudes toward them, such as from their bosses at work.

Men can find it difficult to deal with emotions and their depression when they are expected to be strong and tough. One man found it very difficult to be on a general ward with emotional problems after a suicide attempt because the ward was filled with 'macho' men who had been in car and sporting accidents.

Sexual relationships were difficult for a number of people. Not everyone was comfortable talking about sexual issues. For instance, some people referred to “female problems” when they wanted to keep the issue secret. Others discussed sex in relation to depression. As a teenager, one man recalls that sex was not discussed in his family, and he admitted to feeling somewhat bad about masturbation. Another man recalled a situation on holiday when he was young and “naïve” and a man made a sexual advance that made him feel bad. A few men who were taking antidepressants had trouble getting erections or ejaculating. However, this was not usually a big concern since depression (and taking medication) can reduce interest in sex anyway.

Some particularly sensitive people recall “losing a few layers of skin” when people they were attracted to seemed to reject them. One woman noticed a pattern to her 'breakdowns' that involved very intense feelings of desire and love for people who did not return such feelings for her. One man who felt rejected by a girl while he was a student at university felt the incident contributed to his suicide attempt.

Last reviewed September 2017.

Last updated September 2017.


Please use the form below to tell us what you think of the site. We’d love to hear about how we’ve helped you, how we could improve or if you have found something that’s broken on the site. We are a small team but will try to reply as quickly as possible.

Please note that we are unable to accept article submissions or offer medical advice. If you are affected by any of the issues covered on this website and need to talk to someone in confidence, please contact The Samaritans or your Doctor.

Make a Donation to

Find out more about how you can help us.

Send to a friend

Simply fill out this form and we'll send them an email