Loneliness and isolation often have a negative impact on mental health and are especially prevalent among LGBTQ+ people - here's how you can get support.
By Naoum Liotas • 16th November 2020
Photo by Rhett Noonan
"… the lonelier a person gets, the less adept they become at navigating social currents. Loneliness grows around them, like mould or fur, a prophylactic that inhibits contact, no matter how badly contact is desired. Loneliness is accretive, extending and perpetuating itself. Once it becomes impacted, it is by no means easy to dislodge."
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City
Over 9 million people in the UK are lonely, with London ranked as one of the loneliest cities in the world. So, if you find yourself struggling with loneliness just know that you are not alone. As a therapist, I have worked on issues of loneliness and isolation with both private and Helsa clients and know all too well how common they are in our LGBTQ+ community. Research by organizations, such as Age UK, also suggests that older people are especially vulnerable to loneliness and according to similar research by Stonewall (2011), lesbian, gay and bisexual people over 55 are:
More likely to not be in a relationship. Gay and bisexual men are almost three times more likely to be single than heterosexual men.
More likely to live on their own. 41 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people live on their own compared to 28 per cent of heterosexual people.
Less likely to have children. Just over a quarter of gay and bisexual men and half of lesbian and bisexual women have children compared to almost nine in ten heterosexual men and women.
Less likely to see biological family members on a regular basis. Less than a quarter of lesbian, gay and bisexual people see their biological family members at least once a week compared to more than half of heterosexual people.
Another part of the population seriously affected by loneliness and isolation are those living with HIV. In a recent survey, over 25% of people living with HIV said they had unmet needs in relation to loneliness or isolation, and this problem is set to grow as a result of COVID-19.
Feelings of loneliness and being socially isolated are bad for our communities and can have a devastating impact on our mental and physical health, often resulting in depression and a failure to take proper care of ourselves. Loneliness can be as harmful for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and people with a high degree of loneliness are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's.
In addition, there is a huge amount of stress and distress caused to lonely and isolated people with HIV who are unable to receive the help and support they need with issues like housing and claiming benefits. This lack of support can have a significant impact on their quality of life, while at the same time placing an unsustainable burden on healthcare professionals who are unable to effectively support these non-clinical needs.
Based on the previous facts, just think about the accumulative negative effects that feeling lonely and isolating ourselves can have on us! We can easily enter into a vicious cycle that is difficult to get out of – we become isolated, struggling to find motivation to get out, enter depression and then it becomes almost too difficult to get out of this “prison” of sorts. Therefore, support in the form of counselling or community support is important in these cases.
The unmet needs of the community and the negative impacts of loneliness and isolation (that are only exacerbated by COVID-19) are exactly what led to the creation of a programme called Connect Well. Developed by Living Well, Connect Well is a new service model offering a range of free online and telephone support services for anyone in London over 18 years of age who is LGBTQ+ or is living with HIV that is struggling with anxiety, depression, loneliness or isolation.
How you can get support
If you are able to and would like to find a therapist, all Helsa Partner Therapists are qualified to work on issues of loneliness and isolation and are all specialised in working with LGBTQ+ people. All are available to book privately through the platform if needed.