One man’s story of accessing MindOut’s services www.mindout.org.uk
Jon would have said that his community was his work team, probably. He had been out as gay for many years, but didn’t socialise or go out to LGBT venues or pubs or clubs. He really wasn’t bothered. His family were spread all over the world, they kept in touch but he wouldn’t have said they were close. He had moved to Brighton three years ago, he lived in a flat and had only ever met one of his neighbours. He wouldn’t have said he was unhappy, depressed from time to time perhaps, but nothing a drink or two wouldn’t take the edge off.
Then his world shrunk when the company he worked for suddenly closed. He was shocked, hadn’t seen it coming at all. He was fairly confident he could find another job, but it would take a few months. Luckily he had a bit in the bank, he could pay the rent and eat, but not much more.
Jon had time on his hands for the first time in ages. He soon found himself feeling very low, wondering what the point was, what next. He realised how lonely life could be. He stopped going out, going out alone only reminded him of how much he lacked friends, company, someone to share things with. He started drinking more, even though that made him feel worse the next day.
One day, chatting with his brother on the phone, he started to talk about how he felt. His brother was lovely, shared some of his own depressive experiences, which surprised Jon. He’d had no idea that his brother had been through difficult times, he’d always seemed very self-contained, on the surface. His brother suggested Jon look for some support locally. At first Jon was very sceptical – he was not keen on talking to strangers. Then he saw MindOut’s flyers and wondered if going to an LGBTQ place might be better – not exactly strangers, perhaps.
First of all he contacted the MindOut online service, it was easier somehow, not to have to talk to someone directly. That went ok, the person on the other end was kind and helpful. He agreed to come in and talk to someone there about joining a group.
A few days later he went to the first meeting of a peer support group to talk with other LGBTQ people about mental health. He wasn’t sure that he would like it, or like the other people, but he was determined to give it a go.
Jon was shocked and amazed. Amazed at the stories he heard, shocked at how kind and interested other people were in each other, and in him! It wasn’t easy, some people’s lives were so hard, some of their stories so painful. But it did feel real, people spoke from the heart, there was no pretending everything was fine when it wasn’t. He came away feeling like he had been part of something, part of something useful, meaningful. He could see that people left at the end feeling better, and that had to be a good thing.
It wasn’t that Jon felt like he belonged overnight. It wasn’t that simple, but it gave him an inkling of what it might be like. It made him more curious about LGBTQ lives, about what being part of an LGBTQ community might be like, for him and for other people. It made him realise how deep his loneliness had been, it made him long to feel that connection.
Best of all was what he learnt about other people’s lives. He realised that he had assumed all LGBTQ people were fine now, coming out was easy, marriage possible, visibility so good. But he had only seen it from his own point of view…
At MindOut, Jon met people he would never have met before: women of all ages, younger people, black and minority ethnic people, all with a huge variety of mental health experiences.
He was very struck by conversations he had with people who had recently come to Brighton, some of them refugees. This was something he had not thought about much, what it might be like to be fleeing violence and persecution because of your sexuality or gender. It is such a hidden issue, and the people he met were so desperate, so anxious. He was shocked, too, at the racism they had to deal with, the exclusion they felt from the rest of the LGBTQ world.
Jon realised, for the first time, just how privileged he was as a white gay man who had enough money. He might be feeling lonely and isolated, but it was so much harder for people who really didn’t know where their next meal might be from, where they would end up, whether they would even survive.
Jon’s depression took time to lift. He got a job after a few near misses and is gradually settling in with a new team. He still attends the MindOut groups where he finds good company, some challenges and much to learn. He feels useful and knows now how important that is. He feels part of something worthwhile, and he knows that it’s precious.
MindOut offers safe LGBTQ spaces to explore mental health. We have advocacy workers, out of hours online support, peer support group work, peer mentoring and a counselling service.