For the past eight months, our world has suffered from a global pandemic. Not only is this a public health crisis, but it is a mental health crisis as well. As the pandemic continues, there is an increase in the negative mental health effects of COVID-19, particularly on LGBTQ+ college students. Coming home from school can already be a stressful experience for many college [LA1] students, but it can be even more difficult for LGBTQ+ students to feel safe and comfortable in their own homes.
LGBTQ+ youth are already at a higher risk for anxiety, depression and self-harm in comparison to their non-LGBTQ+ peers. Studies reveal that high numbers of LGBTQ+ students across the country are facing high levels of substance use, psychological distress, social isolation, all while receiving little emotional support during COVD-19. The start of the pandemic has led to a 17 percent increase in severe psychological distress of LGBTQ+ youth, and 65 percent of LGBTQ+ students met the clinical criteria for moderate to severe psychological distress. Factors of psychological distress include lack of familial support at home and a detachment from queer support groups on campus.
For many students, quarantining at home can mean that their identities are disrespected and rejected by family members. Feeling unsafe with families who outwardly express anti-LGBTQ sentiments causes more distress to a population that is already at higher risk for mental health issues. Forty four percent of students across the nation have reported feeling like they need to hide their identity from their family now that they have returned home. This can lead to a serious sense of isolation, and in turn negatively affects one’s mental health. Though all students are facing difficulties connecting with others due to social distancing, it can be significantly more difficult for LGBTQ+ students to feel connected if they do not have loving and supportive family relationships.
A few ways in which students can deal with this stress include connecting online with other LGBTQ+ individuals, avoiding difficult conversations with family during the pandemic, and maintaining healthy habits. Some schools, like Vassar College, offered virtual graduations specifically for their LGBTQ+ population this spring to show their support and ease the discomforts of being at home. If schools can offer more events that highlight the LGBTQ+ community, students might feel more hopeful during this time.
On campus, many students feel that they have a community and support system where they can be themselves. Some students have felt comfortable to come out while at college, but returning home may mean “going back in the closet” for some. Re-experiencing these stressors can be detrimental to one’s mental state. Additionally, in-person classes provide a degree of socializing that cannot be replicated at home. The lack of socializing with other LGBTQ+ individuals can have a significant impact on students’ mental health. There are solutions such as virtual camps and support groups, and staying in touch with others in the community can be significantly helpful. One student has started joining online game nights in addition to teletherapy and has reported to be doing “much better” mentally now that he has reconnected with others in the community.
Virtual counseling has also become a popular option since many students rely on their schools’ in-person counseling for mental health services. However, some students are reluctant to use virtual counseling services at home because they don’t want their family members to hear them, which can be an additional stressor. Therfore, it is imperative that colleges focus on improving access to mental health services for their students during this difficult time. Whether it is virtual one-on-one counseling, student support groups, or offering counseling services at odd hours so that students feel more comfortable, colleges must prioritize their students’ mental health.
The LGBTQ+ community is already at higher risk for struggling with mental health issues than non-LGBTQ individuals. The additional uncertainty LGBTQ+ youth are facing only heightens the typical day-to-day stress of dealing with COVID-19. It is important to recognize that not only is the world suffering from a physical health pandemic, but it is also a mental health crisis.
For more support, please visit the Trevor Project’s 24 hour hotline.
Blog by Avni Khera, NOW Digital Media Intern
University of Maryland School of Public Health: https://drum.lib.umd.edu/bitstream/handle/1903/26375/LGBTQ_COVID_Report_09032020.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y