OPINION: The coronavirus pandemic risks an LGBT+ mental health crisis

by Hugo Minchin | Talk To The Rainbow
Tuesday, 23 June 2020 08:06 GMT

Commuters wait at a metro platform, as Spain lifted the state of emergency after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, in Madrid, Spain, June 22, 2020. REUTERS/Susana Vera

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LGBT+ people suffer from high rates of mental health issues, so we need to be prepared for a new wave as lockdown measures are lifted

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Hugo Minchin (MBACP) is the director, co-founder and a counsellor at Talk to the Rainbow, a centre for LGBT+ therapy in Bristol

COVID-19 has created an unprecedented wave of mental health issues as the virus has spread from country to country. It is one that will leave its mark on communities across the globe and across generations.

Like many other minority groups, there are worrying indicators that the LGBT+ community, already vulnerable, is suffering disproportionately as a result of coronavirus and the measures that we have all had to take to contain it.

As therapists working under the LGBT+ umbrella, we are all too aware that there existed a disproportionate prevalence of mental health issues within the community pre-Covid 19.

The rates of people who identify as LGBT+ and suffer from depression, shame, anxiety, suicidal ideation and substance misuse are much higher than for non-LGBT+ people.

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The effects of Covid-19 and the extra layer of isolation that comes with it has compounded these issues.

This comes at a bleak time when mental health services across the board in Britain have been stripped of funds and their services reduced. LGBT-specific support, already cracking at the seams, is finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the additional distress the community is experiencing.

This is particularly bad for many trans people, who having to deal with the cancellation of NHS services and medication being interrupted, amounting in an abrupt halt to their transitions.

In Britain one immediately obvious repercussion of the virus has been that many LGBT+ businesses and venues find themselves unable to afford the taxes and rent for empty premises and are increasingly looking at the prospect of bankruptcy and closure.

This unfortunate set of circumstance for many venues across the UK, central in their importance as safe spaces, will impact members of the LGBTQ+ community’s ability to meet and be themselves in an environment that is more likely to be free of discrimination.

There are also little or no Pride festivals and marches this year, for the first time since the movement began in the UK. Pride runs throughout the summer in the UK and is a way of bringing together the community and its allies. Many events are finding creative ways of moving online, but the feeling of unitedness, support and cohesion will not be the same.

The impact of Covid-19 does not stop there.

With social isolation and a drop in income, many in the community had to move back home with families who didn’t tolerate their differences.

Many are stuck at home with abusive partners and family members. The LGBT Foundation, to name one, reports a 30% increase in domestic abuse calls to its helpline. These challenging household situations can make accessing support and confidential help more difficult during periods of lockown.

As therapists, we are trained to deal with change, to accept that no one situation is the same, so we are well equipped to deal with situations like Covid-19.

There is, however, no doubt in my mind that there is a growing and largely unseen psychological pandemic in the making, as difficult and damaging as the clinical one, which cannot be found in the official figures.

As lockdown measures are lifted and people return to a new form of normality, we are faced with grief and mourning on an unprecedented scale, as well as mental health distress and society-wide trauma that most of us won’t have experienced yet. And this where counsellors and psychotherapists have a duty to turn their minds to now, in order to prepare for a wave of a different kind.

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