LGBTQ+ and worried about your mental health during coronavirus?

Feeling anxious, scared, frustrated, uncertain, or a combination of all of these? You are not alone. It’s important to develop strategies to cope with and safeguard your mental wellbeing during this time of uncertainty. Here are some tips.

By Dr Mohamed Zaki 1st April 2020

Photo by Lilith Redmoon

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Dr Mohamed Zaki

Head of Research

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If you’re reading this while feeling anxious, scared, frustrated, uncertain, or a combination of these, you are not alone. We, as human beings and social creatures, crave physical security, some degree of certainty and social connection to thrive and feel a sense of balance and mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s hard not to feel scared, stressed and anxious when all of these seem to be threatened by something as invisible, nebulous and seemingly uncontrollable as a virus. But the first thing to remember when you’re gripped by these feelings is that we’re all facing this together and while this virus may be beyond our individual control, it is certainly within our collective control. This should be a good starting and grounding point.

LGBTQ+ people may be facing even greater levels of anxiety and distress. Studies have shown that members of the LGBTQ+ community experience higher rates of mental health issues than the general population and an event such as this pandemic is certain to inflame already existing struggles. Additionally, the National LGBT Cancer Network in the US, along with over a hundred organizations, released an open letter explaining how the LGBTQ+ community might be extra vulnerable to COVID-19, due to higher rates of smoking as well as HIV and cancer and barriers to accessing healthcare. Members of our community are also likely to gravitate towards cities and urban centres because of their openness, diversity and inclusivity, meaning that many of us find ourselves physically far removed from our families and other important support networks. Finally, there is evidence that LGBTQ+ people are more at risk of feelings of loneliness and social isolation, which means that current social distancing and isolation measures are likely to impact many in our communities even more acutely in the coming weeks.

Reach out for help if you’re struggling

As our country has gone into lockdown and we are asked to self-isolate and physically distance ourselves from each other and from lives that we’ve carefully carved out and shaped for ourselves, it’s perfectly natural to experience heightened feelings of anxiety and trepidation. People who have struggled with long-term anxiety, stress, depression or other mental health issues, which are sadly still very prevalent in our community, will be especially concerned about the coming weeks and months. It’s at times like these, when things feel overwhelming and stiflingly vast, that we have to refocus our attention and energies on the things that are well and truly within our individual control.

It’s important to develop strategies to cope with and safeguard your mental wellbeing during this time. This period poses additional challenges for our mental health with social distancing and self-isolation measures adding further hurdles for many people’s already vulnerable psyches. That said, there are things that you can do and ways that you can manage your mental and emotional wellness;

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Don’t focus your attention solely or disproportionately on news of COVID-19. It’s normal and perhaps even prudent to stay up to date on new developments but try to avoid focusing too much of your attention on news items or features that could trigger further anxiety or stress. You might find it helpful to limit the amount of time you allow yourself to catch-up on the news per day, either in the morning or the evening.

Find other ways to connect with friends and family. Social distancing from people we love and care about can take a very real toll on our mental and emotional wellbeing but we thankfully live in an era of unprecedented connectedness. Try as many platforms and apps as you need to to find the one that works best for you and stay connected to those you care about.

Maintain as much of your routine as possible. Try and maintain your regular sleep patterns and get ready as you normally would in the morning. It might not seem like much but maintaining some semblance of normality can mitigate some of the negative impacts of this period of uncertainty. If you exercise regularly find ways of maintaining as much of your exercise regimen as possible.

Go for a walk or a run. While it’s vital that we all adhere to social distancing guidelines, you can still go for a walk or a run whilst maintaining distance from others and whilst avoiding gatherings and crowds. A short walk every day or whenever you feel like you need it can improve your general mood and stave off feelings of boredom and claustrophobia.

Don’t ruminate on hypothetical situations, remote possibilities or ‘what if’s’. Many of us are tempted to clutch at hypotheticals in times of great uncertainty. This is a perfectly understandable human instinct but in a situation such as the one we find ourselves in, this will only lead to further anxiety and stress. It’s certainly easier said than done, but try to catch yourself once you start going down one of those thought avenues and reverse course. Activities that require some degree of active engagement such as cleaning, cooking, reading or talking with a friend are good ways to distract from unwelcome ruminations.

Finally, and most importantly;

Reach out for help if you’re struggling. If you find yourself struggling to keep a handle on feelings of anxiety, stress or depression, reach out to family, friends or a mental health professional. Given that the pandemic might be triggering similar feelings in members of your family and friends you might find it more helpful to speak with a trained professional who can give you the support you need.

At Helsa, we have turned our web platform into a dedicated COVID-19 Pandemic LGBTQ+ Mental Health Support service, offering online video therapy sessions with our LGBTQ+ specialised partner therapists at reduced rates, to help members of our community alleviate heightened levels of anxiety, stress, depression or loneliness brought on by the ongoing pandemic. It’s at times like these that our community needs to come together and support each other. No matter where you are and how you are feeling, our LGBTQ+ specialised Partner Therapists are here for you. To find out more and book an appointment, go to www.helsahelps.com.