Raed explains his mental health journey of coming out as gay to his mother & friends through our Salam of Mind series. Raed shares how seeking mental health treatment was life changing for him after 7 years of hiding his sexuality.
“I still remember that summer; I was 19 years old & realized that I needed to stop living in the shadows. I thought, ‘Do you want to keep living in the shadows your whole life?’.
I finally accepted myself in June 2019 and came out to my mom & friends a few months later. I had lived in denial for 7 years as a teenager because I was afraid of my religion, family, culture, & society. It was challenging to accept that I was gay because it was something different from the norm here. My self-esteem was shattered by religious leaders preaching that God sees gay people in a different way. You see the arresting of homosexuals in the media so you think that your place is in jail. Even the Arabic resources are full of misinformation that link LGBTQ+ members to harassment, rape, pedophilia, & drug abuse. Most of the articles that I read were written by religious extremists, conservative doctors, or angry parents that were describing criminals rather LGBTQ+ individuals. It is easy to lose the support of family members due to misleading media & resources since they are accredited by psychologists.
This all contributed to the multiple waves of depression I experienced throughout my adolescence, so I sought therapy. The first therapist I saw was a man who studied in the UK, but his practices mixed religion & psychology together. He said I had been brainwashed by Netflix, HBO & Western media and needed to be reminded of my “roots”. “He’s just following the trend these days,” he said. The therapist prescribed me a medication that would drain my sexual desire, but I refused to take the pills. I felt threatened and unsafe at that moment!
This is when I started to slowly break. I could barely finish a school assignment & I felt unsafe in my own skin. From January-June 2021, I had stopped doing the activities that I loved & decided to seek therapy again. At first I was nervous because the new therapist was a hijabi woman, so I assumed she would have similar views like the first therapist, but she didn’t. She was nonjudgmental, accepting & loving. She explained that she doesn’t mix her personal views with her profession. She was assigned to me by an international NGO, which made me feel safe.
I was in therapy for 8 months & have remained dedicated throughout the process. I really appreciated the time and effort put into this! During this time, I received psycho-therapy treatment which is when you discuss your past, present, & future. I was diagnosed with moderate depression & started taking medications, which I will finish in a few months. I also learned that depression is genetic within our family. Through therapy, I learned how to be assertive, build healthy relationships, & love myself. I finally felt peace within myself!
I am grateful that I sought help & overall it has been a positive experience for me. I encourage therapy to anyone struggling mentally because your thoughts can be clouded by wrongful ideas which translates into conflicting emotions in your heart. However, I know that therapy accessibility can be limited, especially for LGBTQ+ people. I suggest for those seeking treatment to look into the background of their therapist and seek the private sector services rather than public ones since they strictly commit to the code of conduct. But if private options are too expensive, there are some NGOs that offer psycho-support services while protecting the privacy of their patients. (Swipe for Resources)
Mental health is already stigmatized in the Middle East, but being gay leads to LGBTQ+ people having to deal with two stigmas. This can have serious repercussions on the mental health of LGBTQ+ in the region. For these reasons, it is important for LGBTQ+ people to know the backgrounds of their therapist so that they do not mix their religious/cultural beliefs with their work. I believe that it takes courage for people to acknowledge a problem and get help for themselves. This should not be viewed as a weakness but rather as a strength."