Pippa Sterk, an ambassador for British LGBT+ charity Just Like Us, writes for PinkNews about how lesbians in particular have grappled with loneliness amid lockdown.
I want to shed light on the mental health crisis among young lesbians, but as I sit down to write this, I realise: how can I adequately capture the loss I’ve felt over the past year?ADVERTISING
How can I write about something that is still continuing to impact us, despite the vaccine-shaped light at the end of the tunnel?
Let’s begin with the facts. New statistics show LGBT+ young people are twice as likely to feel lonely and more than twice as likely to worry for their mental health on a daily basis during the pandemic than their non-LGBT+ peers.
The figures show that the lockdown has had a profoundly negative effect on the mental health of young lesbians. Four in five lesbians (78 per cent) of us have seen our mental health get worse through lockdown, compared to 68 per cent of LGBT+ young people generally, and 49 per cent of non-LGBT+ young people.
Almost nine in 10 (87 per cent) young lesbians have felt lonely and separated from the people they’re closest to during the pandemic, including six in 10 (60 per cent) who have felt this daily.
As the numbers show, the loneliness of lockdown has impacted young LGBT+ people disproportionately, and young lesbians in particular.
Being stuck in a house with anyone can be difficult, no matter how well you get along.
For LGBT+ young people, however, being away from school could mean that they are forced to spend more time in an environment that does not accept them – and that’s hoping the school is accepting, which isn’t always the case.
The pandemic has urged us all to ‘stay at home’, but for many of us young LGBT+ people this is at the cost of our mental health.
Even if our families accept us, there might not be anyone in the household who actually shares the experience of being LGBT+.
Delaying care can be as serious a threat to your health as coronavirus. See how Sutter…
LGBT+ safe havens have generally relied on the availability of public spaces, exactly because we often need to go out to find other LGBT+ people.
However, a lot of the spaces that used to host LGBT+ meet-ups (museums, libraries, community centres) have now had to close.
For lesbians this has a particular impact, as even pre-lockdown, it was difficult to carve out our own spaces. If LGBT+ spaces are scarce, finding spaces that cater specifically to lesbians is like finding gold dust.
This is even further compounded for lesbians who have multiple marginalised identities – lesbians of colour, like me, might not feel welcome in all-white lesbian spaces. Trans lesbians might feel like a mostly cisgender lesbian space is not for them.
Even within fiction, it is difficult to find depictions of lesbian community and lesbian joy that feel authentic. Many TV series and films about lesbians are not actually created by lesbians, leading to an uncomfortable reliance on stereotypes and clichés.
In many cases, this means that lesbians are shown as dangerous to those around them, or having tragic lives that often result in death.
When we are only ever shown that our lives will be difficult, it turns this depiction into a self-fulfilling prophecy: at the very least, we have to be able to imagine our happiness, if we want to be able to live it.
I am one of the lucky ones. I get along with the people I live with, and I feel safe expressing my lesbian identity with them. I still have an income, which means I still have a roof over my head. Nobody close to me has died of the virus.
Even writing those sentences felt scary, because it sounds like tempting fate, like I’m jinxing the little bit of structure in my life. I am not a superstitious person, but when a situation is so incredibly out of your control, it is necessary to find those last few things that you can control, and guard them as closely as possible.
One thing that I’ve held onto are my online LGBT+ communities. I am part of an LGBT+ community choir, as well as an LGBT+ student organisation, and my friends in those spaces have been a bigger support than I could ever say.
A particular organisation that has helped me find purpose in the pandemic is Just Like Us, a charity working to improve the lives of young LGBT+ people in schools. They also conducted the research that the statistics above were taken from.
A few months into the pandemic, I joined Just Like Us in September 2020. I was itching to find a way to help other people during lockdown and remain in touch with my community, so volunteering for an LGBT+ charity felt like the natural thing to do.
In the ambassador programme, young people (age 18-25) are trained to deliver talks in school on what it is like to grow up as an LGBT+ person, and what young people can do to support each other and make each other’s lives easier.
I finished my training in January, and I am set to deliver my first virtual group workshop this week.
With virtual school talks, Just Like Us can hopefully help ease this mental health crisis for all LGBT+ young people who will finally get to see and hear from someone like them. While it may be difficult to be a young LGBT+ person right now, we can show that there is a community out there that is ready and willing to help each other through tough times.
Young LGBT+ people can and should be dared to imagine that their future will be bright and that there will always be people who walk beside them on their journey.