Our partner Wysa has written some guidance for any of our patients who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community or those who’d like to find out more about this community, this pride month.
What are the impacts of isolation and loneliness for everyone in the context of the current pandemic?
With the pandemic going on, the best thing you can do for protecting yourself as well as your community, is to self-isolate and avoid social contact. However, this can be detrimental for some individuals as it increases the risk of loneliness and adds to the negative health consequences that are associated with loneliness.
Loneliness in itself has been a major cause of concern around the world before the pandemic. Chronic loneliness is highly damaging not only to our psychological health but also to our physical health. It increases stress, risk of heart disease, higher chances of substance abuse and general poor health.
Social contact and human connection is known to be vital for our overall sense of wellbeing. It is also a common coping mechanism for a lot of mental health issues like stress, depression and suicide of which loneliness is a common symptom. Social isolation and loneliness can unfortunately often go hand in hand, causing poorer mental and physical health.
For some communities, there is an increased chance of loneliness and mental health challenges due to hostility from society.
Why is the LGBTQIA+ community more vulnerable?
Even during normal times, the LGBTQIA+ community has a lot of challenges to face in various aspects, including mental health. Hence, it’s not a surprise that there is an increased risk for exacerbation of mental health issues for the LGBTQIA+ community which has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. There are certain factors that make them more vulnerable and put them at a higher risk.
- Discrimination and hostility from society
- Lack of access to support
- Potential increased risk of unemployment
- Unsafe family environments
- Housing instability
All these factors coupled together along with unsupportiveness, results in a higher degree of loneliness that can eventually lead to further mental health challenges.
How does it affect mental health?
Older people from the LGBTQIA+ community are particularly more vulnerable as they are less likely to have partners, children or any supportive family members and hence no one to play the role of a caregiver. For students or individuals that have lost their jobs, the quarantine period may have resulted in them having to move back with unsupportive or even abusive family members which can have a disastrous impact on their mental health and can cause them to “go back into the closet” or come out to potentially unsupportive family members. Hence these safety measures like social/physical distancing that have been put into place are not necessarily “safe” for all communities.
Social isolation could also have resulted in a loss of access to a safe haven and supporting community for these individuals. Some research has found that individuals of the LGBTQIA+ community are more likely to subject themselves to harmful coping strategies such as alcohol, drugs and other forms of substance abuse. Social isolation can also potentially exacerbate any underlying mental health issues that they have previously made progress on.
What can help?
It is crucial that we increase access for the LGBTQIA+ community to a wide range of support, resources and organizations where they can feel less lonely. Extensive efforts must be made to ensure that the individuals of the LGBTQIA+ community know that they are not alone and feel encouraged to seek support, especially through online means.
- Staying engaged with the LGBTQIA+ community – joining or volunteering for a LGBT focused organization or community can give you a sense of purpose.
- Network of support – you can find a network of people for support online on various platforms, especially on social media or other organizations and resources. When things are challenging, this can be a great source of support and a way of feeling less alone.
- Staying connected – set up weekly, scheduled telephone calls with volunteers, family members, and friends. Celebrate little things like having a virtual birthday or graduation party.
- Taking up goal-oriented leisure activities – such as perfecting the art of baking bread or learning a new language. You can also find an online buddy to do this with which can pose as a distraction when/if you need it.
LGBTQIA+ Organizations and Resources in the UK
- Albert Kennedy Trust (UK) – Supports lgbtq+ young people aged 16-25 who are facing or experiencing homelessness or living in a hostile environment.
- Gendered Intelligence (UK) – Working with the trans community and those who impact on trans lives with a particular focus on supporting young trans people under the age of 21.
- Stonewall and LGBT Consortium (UK) – services that enable you to find LGBT mental health services in your local area.
Let’s build and add to our communities and our people at this time.