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Depression

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.

 
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Says black people are viewed as criminal, out of control and sexually rampant, and people can...

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Age at interview: 45
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 32
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But for me the, the fear thing is such, its about stories about black people being criminal, out of control, sexually rampant. So there are any number of settings where people's concerns about who I am manifest as really weird and offensive behaviour towards me. And they're so wrapped up in it I don't think sometimes they realise how offensive they're being, they're just so wrapped up in their own imaginings of what could happen to them. I mean I'm you know I'm a reasonable, honest, law abiding person and I have to deal with the fact that when I am in certain confined spaces people do, do things like grabbing their bags. Or looking, or not wanting to sit next to you or, there are all sorts of things where they make it so obvious. You know I don't think I'm particularly paranoid, you know people will have to be quite crass before I will have to start registering that something actually isn't working.... I'll speak personally because I mean I could pontificate how 'the black community' whatever that is, copes, I don't know. How I deal with it is sometimes its difficult, most of the time its just stuff. You have to remember that I've been in this identity all my life, so it's not as if I suddenly came here and had to learn to be related to differently.... As I was born here, born at a time when racism was really virulent and naked and raw and I now live with increasing layers of veneers of civilised response.... people have learnt what they should and shouldn't say to keep their badge of being related to as a decent person.

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.

 
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Has moved away from his family a few times so he can have his own space and freedom, away from...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 32
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To be honest, this is not the first time I've lived on my own. This is like a second spell. During 1999-2000 I actually moved out and I was living in [area name] at the time, in the [area name] for just over a year. And I felt [sigh] having my own space... I feel that has helped me now, especially when I was in [area name] because it was having that certain peace of mind where I can come and go as I please and have the space and freedom to do what I want when I want. Not that I actually was very pro-active in getting out and about and being involved in things or staying out late or whatever. But it just gave me a chance to just run my life at the pace that I felt comfortable with, without making any compromises or having to interact with people and fit in with their circumstances.

 

She gets angry and felt a need to break things, but felt frightened by her level of anger. ...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 36
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And it's probably, I just have got a fiery temper. I'll take everything and it will be fine, and then all of a sudden, bang. But... but because I'm an extrovert person in that respect, I'll either scream and shout, or I'll just smash stuff up and I have to be on my own, I can't do it when there's people around [laughing]. So, the other day I just took to throwing some of my china mugs around and which... I didn't really want to do but I just had to do it, you know it just had to happen... because I didn't know where else to put this anger. So if you can control the anger it can propel you, it can make you do things positive, but you have to sit and think about it because if you let go of it, it can be quite nasty. And it frightens me, it used to frighten me at some, at one stage I remember saying that one day this, these bloody kids up the end of the road a while ago were, I don't know, there was a dog and it was chasing a cat and this cat was deaf. I knew the neighbour's cat, it was deaf and I thought, the anger was just so acute.

What was that anger about?

It was just the fact that these bastard kids were allowing this dog to chase this deaf cat and they were laughing at this cat, and I just though, you ignorant waste of skin, these kids.

 
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Says that being intelligent can be unhelpful when depressed if it means you look for explanations...

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Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
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I ah.... I think, being intelligent when you're depressed is not a great thing, because I think what you try to do is you try to, I think I said it before, you try to intellectualise everything, you try to make, understand it, why these things are happening to you, without necessarily confronting the emotional issues. I think also that it, ultimately it gives you an insight, which sometimes makes it more difficult, you know you sort of understand too well about what can happen or what can't happen, but I think the big thing is that it doesn't matter how smart you are, you've gotta deal with the emotion. And I think sometimes intelligent people run away from the emotion by, literally, burying their head in a book, or, trying to find some sort of solution or biochemical explanation why they're sick.

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.

 
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She had relationships with other women, and her mother reacted badly to one of her partners who...

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 23
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For me this is not a big issue but it was for my family in, but this was from I think from '92. I decided that I was, I don't know, gay or bisexual or whatever and I had a relationship with somebody, it was fine. You know, it was, you know, it was kind of like a friendship that, yeah, it was good. It gave us both energy I.... I hope, well for me. No, then I started to go with somebody else who was, oh poor woman, extremely androgynous, rather, and my mother had a problem with this. I, I thought it was clear, obvious because I'd been with this other woman but she was very feminine and, and all this stuff.

And then I guessed, well from her era, from all her.... it, and to me, actually, it was a terrible shock because they are intelligent people, they're open-minded, blah, blah, blah. And then to be so awful to me and we had some sort of family gathering which then after then, thereafter she cancelled because she said she felt rage and ashamed and all this stuff.

Because I took, always.... I had taken the feminine woman and then I took this androgynous woman to this family gathering and that was when all hell broke loose because she said she felt embarrassed. I just wanted to fit in, I wanted to be like everyone else, it was like a family thing with other families and everyone takes their partner and all this. I just wanted to be normal. Anyway, she didn't like it, she didn't like her particularly.
 
 

Was bashed because he was gay, and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The...

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Age at interview: 49
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 37
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I don't know why, but I've been the victim of gay-related violence over the last fifteen, twenty years on very odd occasions. It's not just a physical violence. I think it's the other violence that gay men and women like, just like black people and other minority groups experience. The prejudice is a form of violence and I do feel that strongly about it. People's antagonism, their ill feelings, the snide remarks in the workplace they cause pain in the same way a smack in the jaw causes pain. It's not the same pain but it is still pain. And it's... of course it's still unacceptable and I think once you realise and tell yourself, and tell other people that this is unacceptable, that's a good step towards being able to handle it. But as well as the shitty and unpleasant conditions in the workplace that I've suffered then clearly very much the gay bashings and the aftermath of that have contributed to my depression. Looking back I think they have prolonged it. Not [pause] not made it worse, I can't see how you can quantify that, but they have certainly extended and protracted the bad days and they've also realised that I am also suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. And that has been diagnosed by the GP. And again, just to see that in black and white on the medical certificate is somehow strengthening.

Why is that?

Because, very often with depression you think, oh it's my fault, I'm inadequate, I can't get, I can't do this. It's not that, you're suffering, one is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder because some other twat out there has thumped you.
 
 

Felt sexual feelings and love for another boy at school in the 60s, but was quite shocked by it,...

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Male
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I didn't form romantic relationships, although I think with this boy I met at school, I think really well it was intense, you know... 

Well, how do you see it now?

There was a lot of love there, but you know, it wasn't really a physical, it wasn't a physical relationship.

Do you think in retrospect, did you have sexual feelings?

Yes, absolutely. And he definitely had that for me. Because it started when we were about 14 we went into a new class, we sat next door to each other and he used to squeeze my knee under the table, which I was very shocked about. I mean this was.... OK this was Britain in the 60's, but the swinging 60's didn't really arrive in the provinces, you know, for a long time [laughs]. So I mean, I was fairly shocked and we did talk. I can remember we used to have our lunch in the secretary's office. While she had gone off to lunch we would eat our sandwiches in there and we would sit and talk and take phone calls and that. But we did talk about how we loved each other, but not like 'those' sort of people, you know, I forget what name we used.

Was it queer?

I don't think we knew queer, I think it might have used poofs, or whatever word we used.

What you had was different to 'poofs'?

Yes, it was different to that, it wasn't like that, we weren't like that at all, we just had this love that other people wouldn't understand. I can remember talking about that. I mean I think now, if it was happening now, we would have just explored things, you know, we were just too shocked by it all.

 
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Says that she fell in love with her best girlfriend and slowly came to terms with her...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 19
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It was some time in the early part of that year that, you know, I was forced to come to terms that I was actually in love with my best female friend. I'd been talking to her about my thoughts that maybe, I was a lesbian, maybe actually I wasn't attracted to men at all. I had felt for a very long time before hand that I was attracted to women, but I had very confused feelings about men.... And I came to terms with that slowly but gradually over that year really. But I can't remember exactly how I realised I was in love with her, but at some stage I just realised there was no way I could deny that anymore. That was simply the case.... I think it was from counselling that I worked out what my actual feelings were for my friend.... My counsellor picked up how strong my feelings were for my friend, and it was easier for the counsellor to suggest homosexuality than for me to face it myself.

 

He told someone accepting about his sexuality and felt elated, but then realised he would have to...

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Male
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I was with somebody I had known all my life, and he came out to me, and I came out to him, and we just talked and talked and talked. But I will always remember that night, we were sat in a car, and we just sat and talked for two hours, we just talked and talked and talked and then we met up and then we talked again. Because suddenly, there was somebody else to talk to. But I had just had a girlfriend, he had girlfriends over quite a long period, so we decided we must be bisexual. And I... that's what I was in my head for a couple of years. And I can remember the next day I had to go to London for a meeting and I was so elated, I can remember walking along the pavement and I felt as if I was 10ft high, you know I felt so happy because I told one other person in the whole world. But of course, as time went on, the implication was, you know, then I would have to tell other people, maybe they wouldn't understand and you know, and this was like 20 odd years ago, this was 1981 and Britain's changed a lot in that time.

'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.

 

Says the models of being male are either macho or too soft, with little middle ground, so it is...

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Age at interview: 31
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 17
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I mean I think one of the problems is that you sort of lack a kind of middle ground between being kind of really macho and emotionless, and kind of tough for want of a better word, or kind of emotionally constipated which I kind of put together, do you know what I mean? And then the other thing you don't want to be is a kind of wet bugger, you know you don't want to be kind of... You know the kind of world I came from was pretty... I went to a boys' school it was pretty rough [laughs]. You know it had its rough old moments, and it just wasn't the kind of place you admitted vulnerability.
 

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.

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