Depression's Peculiar Grip on Black LGBTQs

Remember Raymond Chase, Aiyisha Hassan, and Joseph Jefferson? All three were so depressed that they committed suicide.

Raymond was a 19-year-old, openly gay student majoring in culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. On Sept. 29, 2010, he hanged himself in his dorm room.

Just a few days later, on Oct. 4, 2010, Aiyisha, 19, also took her own life. According to an Oct. 23, 2010, ChicagoNow blog post by Lenox Magee:

"She was having a lot of trouble with a lot of different things, but mainly her sexual identity and just trying to express that," says 21-year-old Lauren Morris, a fourth-year student at Howard, who lived in the same building as Hassan from 2008-2009. Hassan was a former biology student at D.C.'s Howard University.

Joseph, 26, a New York City resident and graduate of Harvey Milk High, was a gay youth activist. He was HIV-positive, and it has been reported that he was especially prone to depression and experienced a variety of financial setbacks -- as well as his father's disapproval of his sexuality. On Oct. 23, 2010, the day Joseph killed himself by hanging, he posted the following on his Facebook page:

I could not bear the burden of living as a gay man of color in a world grown cold and hateful towards those of us who live and love differently than the so-called "social mainstream."

The most salient characteristic that these young people had in common was their race. They were Black.

I'm writing this multi-part series to shine a bright light on depression's disproportionate impact on Black LGBTQ persons. As one who's suffered from this illness throughout periods of his life, I can attest to its near-crippling effects.

But before I share my personal experiences and why and how depression can be more prevalent among Black LGBTQ individuals, let's define the illness. There are several types of depression, but I'll discuss the two considered to be the most prevalent: major depressive disorder (MDD) and persistent depressive disorder (PDD).

Let's talk MDD. According to WebMD:

You might have this type if you feel depressed most of the time for most days of the week.

Some other symptoms you might have are:

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in your activities
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Trouble getting to sleep or feeling sleepy during the day
  • Feelings of being "sped up" or "slowed down"
  • Being tired and without energy
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of suicide

Now on to PDD. WebMD states:

If you have depression that lasts for 2 years or longer, it's called persistent depressive disorder. It used to be known as dysthymia.

You may have symptoms such as:

  • Change in your appetite (not eating enough or overeating)
  • Sleep too much or too little
  • Lack of energy, or fatigue
  • Low self-esteem
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Feel hopeless

Are LGBTQ individuals more prone to mental-health issues -- including depression -- than the general population? A United Kingdom study published last September in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that at least for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals, this is indeed so. According to a Care2 post by Steve Williams:

This research, which is the largest of its kind to assess sexual minority groups in this manner, confirmed what smaller studies have repeatedly shown: that LGB people are far more likely to suffer from certain mental health problems like depression and anxiety, as well as being more prone to substance abuse.

So just why might LGB individuals be more prone to depression? Williams explains that it's not our sexual orientation itself but how society treats us as a result of our sexual orientation:

[E]arly and sustained periods of stress can make people more likely to develop a range of adult mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. Stigma and discrimination surrounding LGBT identity is certainly one factor here.

Next up: the beginnings of my experience with this beast named depression (which can be both insidious and in-your-face), and an exploration of its peculiar grip on Black LGBTQs.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Wyatt O'Brian Evans' website is