For decades, conservatives and religious right groups have pointed to rampant depression among gay males as a reason why being gay is so damning in their eyes. A new study, however, points to a different culprit. In a classic chicken-or-the-egg scenario, the link between gay men and mental illness has been debated — not that there is a link, but of which begat which?

A new study released by the University of Minnesota has determined that poor mental and sexual health is likely determined by the individual’s feelings of their sexuality — not the “act of being homosexual.” The Science Daily article discusses the particulars of the study:

As part of attending an HIV prevention seminar, 422 Midwestern gay and bisexual men completed surveys assessing their degree of homosexuality, their degree of positive or negative attitudes towards homosexuality, and a range of mental and sexual health variables.

In all cases, internalized homonegativity, not being homosexual, predicted poorer mental health (particularly increased depression) and worse sexual health. The study appears in the September issue of the Journal of Homosexuality.

The study helps inform the debate of whether or not being homosexual is healthy, said Simon Rosser, Ph.D., a researcher in the School of Public Health and principal investigator of the study.

This study clearly reveals a very simple reality: Yes, mental illness and sexual addictions are sadly common among gay men. But these conditions are not a result of homosexuality or being sexually attracted to men. In fact, it’s because of their own negative feelings about their sexual orientation.

It’s these negative feelings that get reinforced every time we hear a preacher condemn gay relationships. I’ve heard a few reports of how a preacher might say that it’d be “better if a gay person was never born.” Other, more “accepting” groups will say they love everyone, but not “condone homosexuality.”

This directly relates to the abject failure of so many “ex-gay” programs since all they do is reinforce those negative feelings in gay men – to hate the part of themselves that they want to purge. The article further quotes Dr. Simon Rosser:

“Given the debates in many religious denominations about homosexuality, and in society about homosexuals and civil rights, it’s also timely,” Rosser said. “In particular, the old advice to gay men to fight, deny, or minimize their homosexuality likely only increases depression, greater isolation, and poorer sexual health. In short, viewing homosexuality as a disorder is not only inaccurate, it may be harmful as well.”

In my own life, I know the difference between having a healthy self-worth and a destructive one. Before I came to terms — by that, I mean that I embraced my sexual orientation and all aspects of my life — with my sexuality, I was deep in depression and came very close to diving into some very self-destructive behaviors. It’s literally by the grace of God that I was spared that level of carnage.

I don’t credit myself for that at all. In fact, it’s the fact that God sent my partner into my life at just the right time that saved me from what could have been a deadly downward spiral. I could have accepted being gay at some point, but I would never have called it a positive thing unless I had someone in my life that was so positive, so loving, and so sincere (Those of you know know Curtis know exactly what I’m talking about).

While I’m glad that studies like this continue to point to the benefits of embracing all parts of our lives, I’m keenly aware that it’s not an easy struggle to overcome. So many of us, especially those of us who are gay Christians, have to wrestle not only own own self-worth, but the internal and external voices of condemnation that are quick to speak poison into our lives; they tear down what desperately needs to be built up in our lives.

Perhaps as studies like this come to light, we’ll begin to provide the affirmation that is desperately needed in all of our lives. It’s not embracing our sexual orientation that makes us whole, it’s integration – and affirmation that gives us the tools we need to overcome the apparent link to depression.

Maybe it’s time we really got back to being comfortable in our own skin rather than trying to change our skin to fit someone else’s point of view.

Thanks to John DeBerry for the link.