LGBT+ expert and Associate Coach Christopher Hulme discusses the importance of maintaining good mental health during lockdown.
The Equal Rights Coalition (ERC) recently published a policy paper detailing the impact of COVID-19 and calling on all governments to limit the repercussions of the pandemic within the LGBT+ community. It states:
“Although the virus may seem to strike indiscriminately, its spread and consequences along with measures taken to combat the pandemic affect specific groups differently depending on existing inequalities and exclusion mechanisms in societies and power structures, leaving the most marginalised even more vulnerable. LGBTI persons are among the most marginalised and excluded because of historic and ongoing stigma, discrimination, criminalization and violence against them, and they are and will continue to be among those most at risk during this crisis.”
In the midst of a social lockdown and viral pandemic, you could be forgiven for shifting your focus to protecting your physical wellbeing. In a time when face masks and hand sanitiser can feel like the only thing between you and oblivion, people are pushing their capacity to cope to the limit. This invariably has an impact on our mental state of mind and how we feel about ourselves and the world.
“It’s important to remember that LGBT+ people are a heterogeneous group with varying levels of vulnerability and resources. Nevertheless, members of LGBT+ communities are at a higher risk of experiencing common mental health problems than the general population.”Dr Adam Jowett
Whilst being mindful of the varied experiences in the LGBT+ continuum, we know “some segments of the LGBT+ community may be particularly vulnerable to social isolation”* and this can manifest itself in a variety of harmful ways. Individuals coping with substance abuse issues or dependencies can feel triggered in new ways. BAME groups (already at risk of erasure within the LGBT+ community) can be further isolated and cut off from key services. LGBT+ youth, who may not be ‘out’ and may be living in unsupportive domestic environments, are essentially trapped in place. Those who identify as LGBT+ and have disabilities or pre-existing chronic illnesses can feel especially removed from the conversation, and if disabilities present in the form of a visual or speech impairment, there are additional levels of anxiety over communicating with others. Anyone in the midst of their gender transition treatment can now be facing extended delays for elective procedures – with no way of knowing when they will be rescheduled. Can you imagine the feeling of waiting for years, even decades, to live authentically, only to have to delay your medical process because of a viral outbreak?
It’s not difficult to connect the dots between increased isolation and mental struggle. We haven’t trained society at large to deal with the wellbeing ramifications of an extended lockdown, and it’s a dark truth that the most marginalised members of minority groups get the worst ride.
Here are some ways to keep a handle on your mental wellbeing as an LGBT+ person:
Enjoy outdoor space.
Where possible and safe, try to get outside at least once a day. Look for quieter routes into green spaces. Consciously relax your muscles as you walk – drop your shoulders, unclench your firsts. Take the time to centre yourself in the moment. Mindfulness practise and guided meditation can be really helpful for some people, but just getting out in the fresh air is great if you can.
Remain connected with friends and family.
For many, the hardest part is being away from those we love most. Remember to check in on those who may be struggling to communicate, older relatives and solo dwellers. Trust us, we appreciate it.
Engage in substitute fitness activity.
Access to the gym may still be limited right now but working out at home is a great way to keep occupied and keep the mental and physical health balance working for you. Keep an eye out for LGBT+ centred organisations and fitness groups such as The Muscle Mary’s. Which leads to…
Remain connected with the LGBT+ community.
With physical Pride events around the world being cancelled for this year, it’s OK to feel a bit miffed that we won’t be able to join together in celebration and protest at annual pride events. That shouldn’t suggest that Pride is cancelled however, and many organisations are working to deliver content and ways to connect with other LGBT+ individuals through virtual and digital platforms. You can also support local and regional service providers (such as the LGBT+ Foundation or The Angels of Freedom) through voluntary work or donations.
Finally, if you find yourself in a position that you feel relatively ‘untouched’ by the pandemic and can continue to live and work safely (albeit in a different way), one of the best tips to foster positive mental health is to acknowledge our own privilege and use it to help others who need it most. If you can visibly and audibly support the groups who are being hit the hardest during this time, please do so. In all likelihood, if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t even be here.
(King et al., 2008; Semlyen et al., 2016; Millet, Longworth & Arcelus, 2016) Dr Adam Jowett
Chair of the Psychology of Sexualities Section (The British Psychological Society)