Photo © Chris Jepson


We have never lived through a time like this. The pandemic has turned our lives on their heads. Everyone has faced tests and trials during this time. The LGBTQ+ community is no different and has faced, and continues to face, its own unique set of challenges during and after the lockdown, particularly when it comes to our mental health and wellbeing. LGBT HERO surveyed 2,333 LGBTQ+ people to find out how the Coronavirus lockdown affected them.

HOW WAS OUR MENTAL HEALTH BEFORE LOCKDOWN?

Before we can assess how lockdown has impacted our mental health, first we need to look out our wellbeing before the pandemic hit. What caused our mental health to suffer and what things brought us joy?

WE ASKED: Before lockdown began, how often did you feel depressed?

  • Sometimes – 26%
  • Often – 21%
  • Very often – 16%
  • Occasionally – 14%
  • Very occasionally – 12%
  • Every day – 8%
  • Never – 4%

Before lockdown began, how often did you feel anxious?

  • Often – 24%
  • Sometimes – 19%
  • Very often – 19%
  • Every day – 16%
  • Occasionally – 11%
  • Very occasionally – 8%
  • Never – 3%

Before lockdown began, how often did you feel lonely?

  • Sometimes – 24%
  • Often – 19%
  • Occasionally – 15%
  • Very occasionally – 13%
  • Very often – 12%
  • Every day – 10%
  • Never – 7%

How would you rate your overall mental health before lockdown began?

  • OK – 47%
  • Poor – 28%
  • Very good – 16%
  • Extremely poor – 5%
  • Excellent – 3%

“Before lockdown happened, I was seeing my queer family twice a week”, explains Rae, 32. “I was leaving the house most days for some exercise, only eating badly about four days a week and sleeping badly two nights a week. Suicidal ideation 5 days a week.”

Jessica told us: “I enjoyed spending time with couple of very close friends. Which was important as I am not fully out to parents.”

Andy, 19, was thriving pre-lockdown. “I had literally just got an amazing job that paid really well and meant I could move out my family’s house and in with a group of queer friends. I was getting excited about the move, excited to live in an accepting environment, and generally very sure about the future and where I was going to be in a few months’ time.”

Life before the Coronavirus hit wasn’t perfect for everyone. Work and life pressures led some to feel burnt out.

Noddy, 23, explains: “I had a stressful work environment and a stressful social life. Work is life.”

“I was mostly over-worked with not much time free to see my friends or partner after work because I was so tired,” says Tom.

“I work as a retail manager 42.5 hours a week and spent my two days off mostly sleeping. I was always tired,” Gabriel tells us.

Joseph, 20, also had pressures of education and romance. “I had lots of deadlines for my degree and I was working five days a week. It was stressful but balanced. I drank socially and was trying to date again after my five-year relationship came to an end.”

Some respondents told us about the mental health issues they were already dealing with before the lockdown.

Fliss, 18, told us: “I was feeling suicidal. M school kicked me out for ‘not conforming to rules’, as I had a piercing they didn’t approve of, and I was prepared to fail my A-Levels. I was unable to maintain social relations too.”

“I was on medication for anxiety,” says 22-year-old Becky. “I often felt down and confused and struggle to get out of bed. Living in student housing with seven others was hard as I struggle with severe social anxiety.”

Ian Howley, Chief executive of LGBT HERO said, “We knew before lockdown happened that LGBTQ+ people are far more likely to experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and social issues such as isolation and loneliness. Most of the time this can be linked to how we grow up as LGBTQ+ people living in a heterosexual world that’s not really designed for us. So those
challenges come into our lives at a younger age when many people who are exploring their sexuality and gender identities can’t talk about it out of fear or rejection or prejudice. It means that many of the people above will likely have greater experiences of mental health issues. So, for many LGBTQ+ people, life would have already been very challenging before lockdown.


HOW WAS OUR MENTAL HEALTH DURING LOCKDOWN?

WE ASKED: Has your mental health been negatively impacted by the coronavirus lockdown?

  • Yes – 29%
  • No – 21%

Since lockdown began, how often are you experiencing depression?

  • Every day – 21%
  • Very often – 23%
  • Often – 19%
  • Sometimes – 16%
  • Occasionally – 9%
  • Very occasionally – 8%
  • Never – 5%

Since lockdown began, how often are you feeling anxious?

  • Every day – 28%
  • Very often – 22%
  • Often – 17%
  • Sometimes – 14%
  • Occasionally – 9%
  • Very occasionally – 6%
  • Never - 4%

Since lockdown began, how often are you feeling lonely?

  • Every day - 34%
  • Very often – 22%
  • Often – 16%
  • Sometimes – 12%
  • Occasionally – 6%
  • Very occasionally – 5%
  • Never – 5%

How would you rate your mental health overall since lockdown began?

  • Poor – 40%
  • OK – 28%
  • Extremely poor – 21%
  • Very good – 8%
  • Excellent – 3%

Rae, 32, told us about their life during the lockdown period. “It was hard not seeing my queer family and
feeling so alone. I was not leaving the house for any exercise, I was eating badly seven days a week, and sleeping badly four nights a week. I had thoughts of suicide before but this increased during lockdown.”

“Parts of the LGBT culture that I participated in, my parents disapproved of, so I didn’t have many people to talk to about. I felt a lot more disconnected.”

“I’ve been incredibly stressed out all the time,” Andy, 19, tell us. “I’m really, really worried that I won’t be able to move out by July and I’ll be stuck in this house with my family for another six months. I’m desperate to get out of here. I miss my friends, I miss my boyfriend, and I’m scared all the time thinking about the future.”

Noddy, 23, struggled with the isolation: “Living alone and phoning people every day, I felt like a burden. My phone calls have gone from an hour to two hours to 10/15 minutes. It makes me feel like they can live without me, so I don’t feel like I have the responsibility to be alive, they would survive without me.”

It got worse every day. I couldn’t get up, couldn’t sleep. I was and am lonely and living with family who I’m not out too. I can’t say what I think sometimes because they don’t share my world view. And I can’t tell them I don’t want to be around them sometimes because they wouldn’t get it. I miss everyone,” says Tom.

Joseph, 20, started to self-medicate during lockdown. “I began drinking just for drinking sake. The people I was talking to and trying to date stopped talking to me, and I take blame for part of that as I was terrible at keeping in contact with people. I’ve left lots of work until their deadlines and I have barely left the house except for food. I know I’m not helping myself, but I don’t have the drive.”

However, some people saw an improvement in their mental wellbeing when lockdown hit the UK.

“My mental health has actually improved slightly,” explains Gabriel, “my friends, who I rarely see because of the distance apart, have been making more of an effort to communicate. We’ve had regular video calls and been keeping in touch with others who we know do suffer with their mental health.”

Fliss, 18, says: “I am feeling so much better for being out of college and not having the stress of exams. My mental health is at a stable baseline which has enabled me to suss out my specific triggers or worries.”

“As I struggle with social anxiety, I’ve not had to deal with the everyday interactions that I would have done before lockdown and I don’t feel the same pressure to go out and interact, as we’re not allowed to. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and tried self-help resources to deal with my problems. I do however worry about going back to normal life and how I will cope with added pressure of finishing my degree and getting a job,” says Becky, 22.

Ian Howley of LGBT HERO said, “We know that LGBTQ+ people are far more likely to experience mental health issues and social issues but what lockdown has done is amplify this. Before lockdown many people would have social bubbles consisting of people who get and understand them, they may be part of the community too. Many of these bubbles would use LGBTQ+ venues as a way to connect with each other. What happened is these social bubbles were taken away in such a short time leaving people, who may already be anxious or experience loneliness, in a position where they have nobody or are surrounded by family and friends who do not get them or even accept their sexuality or gender identity. It’s not a good position to be in and this is why LGBT HERO saw a 68% increase in LGBTQ+ people seeking mental health support within the first few weeks of lockdown. We also saw an increase of 44% in people accessing suicide prevention information. Of course, there is more to this than the loss of social bubbles but we need to do more research to see why people’s mental health took a massive hit in the first three months of lockdown so we can better respond if this happens again.

WAYS TO COPE

Now we have been through it (and are still going through it, even though lockdown has been eased for most of us), what coping mechanisms did we develop in this unprecedented pandemic period? And what can we do to prepare ourselves if we have to go through it again?

“I have often found myself relapsing and being negative towards myself a lot of the time,” explains Alex. “I did and am doing lots of things to help myself such as keep in contact with my therapist and other support professionals, doing more arts and crafts, support others going through difficult times, doing more baking, playing a favourite video games.”

Ben says, “As I’ve been identified as being high risk of catching COVID I’m shielding at home without going out. I’ve been focusing on my wellbeing and mental health. I’ve been doing jigsaws, and video calls with friends.”

How can we better prepare ourselves mentally if a second wave of COVID hits us?

Take a break from the news: during these times, Coronavirus news is everywhere. It’s on our social media feeds, on news websites, popping up in notifications. This can be overwhelming, especially given the magnitude of the situation and the endless onslaught of new facts and figures. Checking the news all day, every day, is unlikely to benefit you. It’s important to stay informed - especially with regard to government health advice and how you can help - but this can be achieved by checking the news once or twice a day for big updates. Pick a couple of news sources and set times in the day that you’ll check them. Avoid stimulants: Caffeine, and stronger stimulants in recreational drugs can make anxiety problems even worse. If you’re feeling anxious, try reducing your intake, or if you feel up to it, cutting it out entirely.

Take time for pleasure: Lockdown is generating huge amounts of pressure for us to self-improve, but you’re not a failure if you haven’t learned a language, done DIY, and exercised every spare minute of the day. It’s okay to simply be and take care of yourself during this turbulent time. Make time for yourself to simply relax and do the things you enjoy, whether that’s playing videogames, watching TV, or cooking a nice meal.

Access reliable information and facts: Conspiracy theories and sensationalist headlines are the enemies of good mental health. Accessing well-researched and reliable information about the ongoing situation, and its potential effects on mental health, is key.

Talk to someone: It’s important for our mental health to connect with others, whether this is face to face or
digitally. Speaking to other people can help us rationally work through our problems, or dissect the negative thought patterns that are keeping us worried. Call a friend and ask if you can talk about what’s worrying you. If it helps, you can make a list of what’s on your mind beforehand so that you cover all the bases and you can address your worries in an ordered manner. After you’re done, you’ll likely feel better.

Online support: Not everyone has close friends and family then can talk to, and if they do, they might not feel comfortable sharing their experiences of anxiety. That’s why services like the OutLife forums are great. You can talk to other people who are likely to understand your feelings, whilst also remaining anonymous. 

Get your daily exercise: Exercise is key to consistently reducing levels of anxiety, whether it’s running, lifting weights, or doing yoga. When we exercise, the amount of stress hormones in the body goes down, allowing us to feel more relaxed. If you get outside for your dose of exercise, then you’re also taking in fresh air, sunlight (vital for vitamin D production), and for lucky people, nature, which has been shown to have positive effects on our mental wellbeing.

Routine is your friend: Our daily routines have changed beyond recognition, and many people are struggling to cope with the new normal. If you’re still working from home, are furloughed, or have found yourself
unemployed, then the usual rhythms of daily life aren’t as easy to maintain. It might be tempting to let stay up into the wee hours and let your sleep pattern go topsy turvy, but this can prove problematic for mental health. Try to stick to regular sleeping and waking hours, and divide your space between work and leisure, even if that’s as simple as working at the table and relaxing on the sofa.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

What have we learned about ourselves during lockdown and how can we better improve our mental health for the future, whether another pandemic arrives or not? Can we turn this period of turmoil into something positive for our wellbeing?

Ian Howley says, “Lockdown and COVID-19 has been a big learning curve for all of us. No LGBTQ+ organisation or service was fully prepared for what was about to happen. But we have learned a lot since and we know what needs to be done over the coming months and years to help people get back on track. My advice to anyone feeling lost, alone, isolated, anxious or depressed because of what has happened is to realise that you are not the only one and there’s many out there just like you who are looking to connect with people who can also understand how they are feeling. We need to come together, support one another and let’s get through this together. At LGBT HERO we are looking at ways we can do this and build a better organisation for our community. In the meantime, if you are feeling any of the above, please reach out for support. It won’t last forever.”

FINDING HELP AND SUPPORT

If you’re experiencing an emergency and feel like your life or safety is in danger, call 999 and ask for the police or ambulance service. You can also call Samaritans on 116 123 to speak to someone, 24/7, 365 days a year.

OutLife Forums: Provides a safe and non-judgmental space for LGBTQ+ people to talk to one another about their issues and life experience. outlife.org.uk/forums

Switchboard - 0300 330 0630, 10am-10pm - email [email protected] - Web text chat here. LGBTQ+ helpline run by volunteers. Here to help you with whatever you want to talk about. Nothing is off limits.

LGBT Foundation - 0345 3 30 30 30, Monday to Friday, 10am-6pm Helpline that has been running for over 35 years, and is staffed by a team of dedicated staff and volunteer operators. Talk about hate crimes, mental health, gender identity. Whatever you need.

Mermaids - 0808 801 0400, Monday to Friday, 9am-9pm
Family and individual support for gender diverse and transgender children and young people. If you’re experiencing an emergency and feel like your life or safety is in danger, call 999 and ask for the police or ambulance service. You can also call Samaritans on 116 123 to speak to someone, 24/7, 365 days a year.

LGBT IE - LGBT Helpline (1890 929 539), Gender Identity Family Support Line (01 907 3707), [email protected]
Irish LGBT organisation that offers an LGBT helpline, and gender identity helpline, as well as support via instant messenger you can find here.

Support U - 0118 321 9111
Confidential support line for LGBT people as well as friends and families. Information offered on coming out, family problems, sexual health, training for your company or provider.

Galop - 0800 999 5428
Advice and support for LGBTQ+ people who have experienced hate crime, sexual violence or domestic abuse. Also offers support for those who’ve had problems with the police or have questions about the criminal justice system.


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