COVID-19 and the social isolation it has created is having a negative effect on the mental health of members of the LGBT+ community both in Australia and around the world.
The pandemic affects people in different ways, but for many in the LGBT+ community who are already considered to be vulnerable, the added uncertainty of the situation, combined with the mandatory isolation and social distancing, has caused further deterioration of their mental health.
According to the LGBTI Health Alliance, which is a national health organisation for the LGBT+ community, members of the LGBT+ community are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder compared to those not within the community.
Not only that, but mental health support organisation Beyond Blue says LGBT+ community members can be affected by mental health issues throughout their lives.
Consultant psychiatrist Burleigh Specialist Clinic, Muthur Anand, said he had seen firsthand how greatly the LGBT+ community has been affected by COVID-19.
“I have seen a surge of patients from this [LGBT+] community presenting in crisis over the past four to five months,” Dr Anand said.
Dr Anand said age could also influence how an individual in the LGBT+ community was affected by the pandemic and said younger members of the community had been more noticeably affected by lockdown conditions.
LGBTI Health Alliance figures show that 47.7 per cent of LGBT+ members in Australia aged between 16 and 24 have been diagnosed or treated for mental health disorders within the past three years.
The figures also show that approximately 32.5 per cent of LGBT+ members between the ages of 45 and 59 have been treated for, or diagnosed with, a mental health disorder within the past three years.
“By and large, we have seen the younger LGBT+ population [aged 18 to 35 years old] present in crisis situations during the COVID period,” Dr Anand said.
Sixteen-year-old Nic Way is a younger member of the LGBT+ community who lives in New Jersey in the United States.
Nic has spent a lot of time in isolation due to the area’s lockdown laws and said the situation had impacted their mental health.
“It’s made me more isolated, I am not mentally healthy at the moment,” they said.
Many community members look forward to annual Pride events, which help them to feel accepted and, due to COVID-19, many of these events have been cancelled for the year.
Seventeen-year-old Cayla Wait-Ridgway is a member of the LGBT+ community on the Gold Coast who said her mental health had been affected by COVID-19 because lockdown and social distancing had restricted her access to her friends.
Cayla was also particularly affected by the cancellation of the Pride festival.
“It’s been hard because Pride has been cancelled and that’s the best day of my year,” she said.
Stress levels have been high due to COVID-19, with many people having to make significant changes their lives thanks to the pandemic, isolation and social distancing restrictions.
The LGBT+ community struggle daily with discrimination and issues that people outside of the community may not typically experience, including homophobia, transphobia and being ridiculed by family members for being themselves.
Twenty-one-year-old Gold Coast LGBT+ member Jayme Vlaskamp said he had found it difficult connecting with other people his age.
“Half the people my age are looking to settle down and the other half are still in the teenager party phase,” Mr Vlaskamp said.
“Not being able to relate to either of these types of people has made it even harder to cope,” he said.
According to the Australian Department of Health, looking after your physical health can benefit your mental health, which means staying physically active, getting a good night’s sleep, and eating properly can all be beneficial for good mental health.
Dr Anand said there were many resources available to people of all ages within the LGBT+ community to help them deal with the stresses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“People can use IT-based self-help tools and techniques, like Black Dog Institute’s website, Lifeline or community organisations like Plus Social and the Wayback program,” Dr Anand said.
Being in isolation has been difficult for the LGBT+ community since they are isolated from their friends, but thanks to the internet and social media, people are able to stay connected with one another whilst being safe.
Andy Ryder Bennett is a 30-something from South California in the United States, who is also part of the LGBT+ community.
Mr Bennet said he was more thankful for the Internet now than ever before.
“Had it [COVID-19] been when I was younger, back when the Internet and social media weren’t mainstream, the isolation would have been much harder to bear,” he said.
If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact lifeline on 13 11 14.