DJ made two attempts on his life in coming to terms with being gay
Dylan McKee tells JOANNE SAVAGE about how making peace with his sexual identity drove him to the brink
On a November night in 2019, popular Bangor DJ Dylan McKee made a serious attempt on his life and lay down on his best friend’s grave, determined to die.
“I had told my mother and my three brothers, before I left the house, that I loved them very much, and when I didn’t come home they twigged that something was wrong. After acting as I did to end things I became roused and hit the emergency button on my phone and the police were quick in coming to where I was. I don’t remember much after that.
“Police got me into their car, my brother Daniel arrived and the next thing I remember is waking up in hospital. I was angry and agitated when I came round, I was depressed to still be alive and all I wanted to do was sleep.”
Dylan, 22, confides that he has struggled with his mental health since childhood, but things began to reach crisis point for him a few years ago when he began to struggle with “who I am as a person and in coming to terms with the fact that I am gay. It was the isolation of making my peace with this and trying to navigate the difficulties of coming out to my parents that really plunged me into a deep depression.
“I’m always this outgoing person who wants to go out and have a laugh and loves being around people, but when I came home from a job working as resident DJ on a cruise ship I began to retreat from others, my mood was low and I simply wanted to be by myself which is very much out of character.
“I wanted to cocoon myself. I wasn’t eating, I was barely sleeping, I was having nightmares and daily panic attacks - just this sense of drowning.”
His Protestant parents were largely accepting, although his mother struggled with the news, Northern Ireland being somewhat hesitant to embrace LGBTQ individuals in its ultra conservative predominant Christianity.
To give an idea of how such pernicious attitudes remain part of the cultural zeitgeist here, consider that Arlene Foster’s abstention from a vote on the controversial practice of ‘gay conversion therapy’ was seen by some as bound up in her ultimate ousting from the DUP, even as same-sex marriage has been legalised here through legislation passed at Westminster.
Daniel felt like the kind of mental health treatment he required was not available to him - he was never assessed by a psychiatrist in hospital after his ordeal, but more pressingly it was the feeling that he could not be honest about his identity as a gay man that pushed him to the very edge.
“There’s always this idea that a man is this big strong macho guy who has to be head of a household and raise a family. But then I would think, if I’m not there and my family needed me, who would stand up and be a man? It made me realise that there is more than one definition of masculinity and more than one concept of what it is to me a man.”
Things brightened for Dylan when he was put in touch with a counsellor named Jean at the Suicide Awareness and Support Group on West Belfast’s Falls Road, an organisation he describes as a ‘phenomenal’ support network for those in crisis and who he was put in contact with just days after his first attempt to take his own life. He continued fronting his own show on Juice Radio and DJing in local nightclubs and bars, including one spectacular gig at the SSE Arena. He was on the antidepressant medication sertraline and still talking to a counsellor but in December 2020 he lapsed again, making a second attempt at ending his life.
“It felt like 100 people having 100 different conversations in my head and it is just not a way that you can function. I needed to silence that. So I acted. But I told my friend who is a paramedic who treated me while we waited for the ambulance.
“I didn’t want to go to hospital because you have to wait weeks for a psychiatric assessment and I didn’t feel it was worth it because I needed urgent help. So I again turned to my counsellor. And I realised that I could get myself out of this with the right people around me. I decided I would struggle on and not take the easy way out. I decided to make peace with being gay.
“I first contacted the Suicide Awareness Centre after a suffering a panic attack, I didn’t need a GP referral and they were able to help me immediately.”
Coming out to his parents was challenging.
“My mum fancies herself as a bit of a Cilla Black and she was trying to set me up with this girl. But my auntie who was with us that night is very intuitive and has a short fuse and just said to her: ‘Wise up, your son is gay.’ So I didn’t actually have to say it myself.
“My mum now knows there is no shame in having a son who is gay, and acknowledges that she didn’t respond in the best way at first.
“My dad just knew. I tried to take him out to dinner to tell him formally, but before I got to that he just told me he knew I was gay and end of story. But he still insisted I take him for dinner.”
Naturally, McKee is appalled by the notion that any members of the LGBTQ community should be discriminated against in any way and believes fervently in equal respect for those of a different sexual orientation.
“Gay conversion therapy makes me sick to the stomach. It’s about saying to people, nah, the way you are naturally is wrong, but we can get you help and make you into someone you are not. You cannot convert people from being gay.”
After a night out in Belfast city centre at a gay nightclub, Dylan remembers encountering a young man in a desperate situation.
“He broke down when I asked him if he was OK and told me that he had come out to his parents and they were very unhappy and wanted to get him help so that he could be different. I asked him if he wanted that help and he said no. I said, ‘Nah, man, don’t do it. You have to be who you are and you shouldn’t have to be made to feel any kind of shame about it’.
“I’ve heard from him since and he is in a relationship and is happy.
“Until we see the next generation coming through, we are always going to have those people here with us in Northern Ireland who will insist that being gay is wrong.
“I have been active in trying to block the progression of gay conversion therapy as a legitimate practice and I have to say that every MLA I have written to in my area has said that they did not agree with the motion and would be doing what they could to block it.
“My local DUP MLA Alex Easton was among them.
“But I am generally really disinterested in politics here and I don’t even thank our legislature for the introduction of same sex marriage, because they didn’t do it, it had to go to Westminster for it to become law.”
His advice to the LGBTQ community in Northern Ireland who are maybe facing mental health challenges particularly because this society can be so unwelcoming to those who do not fit the heterosexual stereotype?
“Be yourself. Be who you want to be. The gay community accepts everyone. There is a bigger community who will accept you if you feel isolated in the one you are in. It will take time, but you have to be patient and seek the help you need. And help is available.
“We know here is a shortage in the mental health budget and service provision is not where it should be but I like to believe we will get there.”
Dylan has been doing his bit by putting up Lifeline posters in all his local shops and even has the number emblazoned on his car.
“If a poster makes a difference to one single person’s decision to keep going then it’s worth it.”
If you are having problems and need to talk to someone you can call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.