Homosexuals are twice as likely as heterosexuals to attempt suicide at some point in their lives, according to a new British study.
The findings of the study, published in the international Bio- Med Central (BMC) Journal of Psychiatry, also show homosexuals are more prone to depression, substance abuse and suicidal behaviour than heterosexuals because of discrimination and rejection.
The study supports evidence in South Africa that homosexuals – particularly Indian men – battle with depression and suicidal thoughts because they grapple to come to terms with their orientation.
Janine Shamos, a spokesman for the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, said the organisation received numerous calls for help from Indians “who don’t know how to cope with their homosexuality”.
She described their silence about their homosexuality as a “Bollywood syndrome”, whereby society might confuse gay men with on-screen metrosexuals.
“Bollywood is popular in terms of the image, dress and glamour, and the culture around this makes it even more difficult to be gay. Often people call in and say they know that they are gay but are brushed off by colleagues who insist they are heterosexual and often compare them to Bollywood stars,” said Shamos.
She added that the Indian community was one of many in South Africa still in denial about homosexuality.
In an analysis of 25 past studies on sexual orientation and mental health, UK researchers found that gay, lesbian and bisexual adults were at least 50% more likely than heterosexuals to have a history of depression or an anxiety disorder.
They were also at risk of alcohol problems or other forms of substance abuse, and were more than twice as likely as heterosexuals to have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.
When Gauteng web designer Naufal Khan, 27, recently decided to break his silence about his homosexuality, he prepared himself “for the worst”.
“With repressed emotions, I felt suicidal. Indian homosexuals are prone to experience depression. I’ve been through it and overcome the worst, and have dealt with the rejection by family and friends,” said Khan.
The chief research specialist at the Human Sciences Research Council’s Gender and Development Unit, Prof Vasu Reddy, agreed with the study’s findings, saying sexual orientation was a “deeply private matter because of the social stigma”. “To come out of the closet is to run the risk of being exposed and ostracised by a very demeaning society. It’s a moment of vulnerability, because you are usually faced with the risk of harassment by friends and family, public insult, rejection and sometimes even physical assault,” said Reddy.
But he said young Indians were better exposed to public discussion about sexuality, in which previous generations were reluctant to engage.
“I sense a shift in attitude in the way the Indian community is engaging in issues of sexual identity today. That said, it is still, in my opinion, a community relentless in its homophobia, often because of the strong patriarchal values that run deep in the community.”