It’s no surprise that large-scale disasters such as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are linked to negative mental health outcomes such as depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress and substance use. In the United States, COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting the mental health of populations such as young people, essential workers, and racial and ethnic minorities. Additionally, the negative mental health outcomes that may result from COVID-19 that affect racial and ethnic minorities like Black and Latino people may be intensified by the complexities of minority stress, (which refers to the high levels of stress faced by minority populations due to prejudice and discrimination).
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ+) individuals may face unique mental health challenges due to the COVID-19 crisis. Unfortunately, hetero- and cisnormativity at the policy level often ignores the needs of LGBTQ+ communities in regard to disaster response in the U.S. While the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in general has yet to be fully realized, it is critical to understand the unique risks that LGBTQ+ individuals may face.
• Ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic including loss of employment, financial hardship, loss of health insurance, and exposure to COVID-19 may disproportionately affect LGBTQ+ communities – 40% of all LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. work in highly-affected industry jobs including restaurants, hospitals, and education, compared with 22% of non-LGBTQ+ individuals.
• Transgender individuals may face challenges in accessing medical care related to gender identity-affirming therapy such as hormone therapy, surgery, or mental health treatment, due to health insurance status or displacement related to stay-at-home guidelines.
• LGBTQ+ students, who may be forced stay home due to mandated virtual learning at the K-12 level or the closing of their college or university, may face unsupportive or even unsafe environments due to familial rejection of their LGBTQ+ identity. Research suggests that LGBTQ+ youth who experience rejection from parents are at greater risk for depression and suicide. Additionally, for many LGBTQ+ youth, schools and universities provide easier access to mental health services.
• LGBTQ+ elders may be at an increased risk of negative mental health outcomes during the COVID-19 stay-at-home guidelines. In general, LGBTQ+ elders are more likely to be single, live alone, be estranged from their biological families, and less likely to have children. Having to remain socially distant from others may intensify feelings of isolation and loneliness.
These are only a few of the challenges that LGBTQ+ individuals may face amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in regard to mental health. To address these unique challenges, it is critical that the current and continued response to the COVID-19 crisis fully considers the unique situations of the LGBTQ+ community and other minority populations, as pandemic-related negative mental health outcomes are compounded by their experiences specific to their identities.
Czeisler, M. É. (2020). Mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation during the covid-19 pandemic—United States, June 24–30, 2020. MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 69. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6932a1
Salerno, J. P., Devadas, J., Pease, M., Nketia, B., & Fish, J. N. (2020). Sexual and gender minority stress amid the covid-19 pandemic: Implications for LGBTQ young persons’ mental health and well-being. Public Health Reports, 135(6), 721–727. https://doi.org/10.1177/0033354920954511
Salerno, J. P., Williams, N. D., & Gattamorta, K. A. (2020). LGBTQ populations: Psychologically vulnerable communities in the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(S1), S239–S242. https://doi.org/10.1037/tra0000837
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