Next in the series of features discovering mental health as part of the series ‘Is The World Going Mental?’ We look into those in the LGBT community are affected.
In 2017, there were an estimated 1.1 million people aged 16 or over identifying as LGBT.
One of those is 20-year-old music student, Nik Arapidis.
Nik was born and raised in the Greek island of Cyprus, before he moved to the UK to pursue a dream of becoming a full time singer. Another major part of Nik’s life: he is a gay drag queen. Something that does not sit well with the majority of his Cypriots.
From a young age, Nik always knew he was different. As we sit in a coffee shop in Manchester’s northern quarter, he sits comfortably with a relaxed pose on a sofa chair. He tells me of how he lived a double life for most his childhood. It’s hardly surprising as it was only in 2015 Cyprus legalised homosexuality.
“In Cyprus, they don’t talk about the gay scene. I think that leads to kids growing up and being homophobic, that was the issue whilst I was growing up. I never confessed that I was gay, but people were questioning me and it was feeling uncomfortable to a point where I was crying when no one was watching because I was tired of living two different lives. It was like living the normal life, the ‘straight life’ and the ‘gay life’.”
Adding to the stresses of being homosexual in a Christian Orthodox country, Nik also had to spend 14 months in the Cypriot army, as is mandatory for all those approaching 18.
“It was hardest part of my life” Nik says. “I got a scholarship in New York at the University of Music, then lost it because I was in the army. It was very hard for me, I was finding more about my gay side and the feelings were becoming stronger. I was crying every day. I told my parents I couldn’t do it but they said “no, you are a man, you should do it”.
Nik then begins to talk of how he even contemplated suicide “I’m not going to lie I’ve thought about before myself. I just wanted to be happy”.
According to a recent study, 13% of those in the LGBT community said they’ve attempted to take their own life in the last year.
After a lifetime of battling insecurities, Nik then decided to move to the UK to pursue his dream, and discover more about his self.
“People are so accepting here” he says as a smile emerges on his face. “When I first came out to some friends here at the end of my first academic year, I was like “why do I do this to myself? I can see it’s not that bad here. I can see now that I am not broken”.
It was at that point Nik feels his mental health began to improve. According the research, 52% of LGBT people experienced depression in the last year, with 14% avoiding seeking health care for fear of discrimination.
It was this point when he says the fashion he was sporting began to take a dramatic turn. “I used to dress very flat, very boring let’s say, no spice at all”. It’s hard to imagine considering the perfected make-up game and magazine-esque fashion sense that sits all so confidently in the coffee shop.
It’s the experimentation with make-up that Nik credits with the true confidence going forward. “I discovered Ru Paul’s Drag Race, I started getting into that. In one year, I became so good at makeup that all my friends asked me to do theirs. I went out in drag as ‘Katrina Devine’ for Halloween and so many people complimented me.
“Drag gives me freedom, I feel drag empowers me and helps me bring up my pride of who I am.”
As his confidence is ever growing, Nik is constantly aware there is one hurdle he must overcome. His parents.
A slight shift in the sofa and it becomes obvious a sad tale is about to unfold. “last year my Aunty went to a fortune teller and asked, do you think this boy is gay? She said yes and told my mother. She then rang me and said ‘please don’t tell me you are gay, we can still fix it, I can take you to a monastery and confess’. She even considered taking me from the UK”.
“Your Mum is the closest person you ever have, you are very connected with her. So me listening to her say all those stuff I was getting emotionally tired. I told her ‘no Mum, I’m not gay’, just because I didn’t want to ruin what I had with her, I didn’t want to disappoint her.
According to a survey, around 35% of gay men in the UK remain in the closet, with more than half of a study too scared to hold hands in public.
It’s not just his time in Cyprus Nik has found a hard time being his true self however. Everyday activities in public poses a challenge. “I wish there was a way to help kids with homophobia. Me and my boyfriend were out and we heard a Dad tell his son, ‘stop acting like a gay boy’, which was sad. I would like kids from a young age to be educated about the gay scene, that it’s ok, there’s nothing wrong about that. I feel if you educate them, then they are going to grow up knowing that it is something ok”.
Ruth Hunt, Chief executive for LGBT charity Stonewall said: “It’s to do with where we are as a society now – which is increased polarisation, falling away from the centre and an increased permission to say things one wouldn’t normally say … If you can say something 10 times on Twitter, why would you not say it on the street?”.
If you are affected by any of the issues raised above, help is available.