According to research by Just Like Us, LGBTQ+ young people are twice as likely to have depression, anxiety and panic attacks as well as be lonely and worry about their mental health on a daily basis. Plus, 68% of LGBTQ+ young people say their mental health has ‘got worse’ since the pandemic, compared to 49% of their non-LGBTQ+ peers.
Being LGBTQ+ is a uniquely isolating experience in that there is a lot of confusion and lack of acceptance around a key part of who you are. In a society that mainly platforms non-LGBTQ+ voices, it can feel as though you are the only person experiencing that confusion, especially since that confusion can look different for each individual.
We spend a lot of time in this confusion, often our youth. As we spend so much time wondering about who we are, LGBTQ+ people don’t often get to experience the teen romance that we see in the media and happening around us in real life at the time, meaning we can feel ‘robbed’ of our teen years.
This whole experience can be terrifying normally, but in a pandemic it was amplified so much more. The feeling of isolation, and not being able to experience the things that all the other teens seem to have experienced became a lot more literal when we were all isolated, and couldn’t do anything.
When the UK went into lockdown in 2020, I had just turned 18. I was studying toward my A Level exams, celebrating all my friends reaching adulthood, and several months into the longest relationship I’d had to date. I was loving life, looking forward to uni, and finally doing the things I was meant to do.
Then it felt like it had been taken away by the announcement that I had to stay at home, which I knew was the right thing to do but that didn’t stop it from being a difficult time.
There were warnings and nervousness in the days leading up to the lockdown announcement. Me and everyone else had our eyes on the news, watching as most other countries around the world went into a national lockdown. It was all a rather dystopian feeling.
I remember meeting up with my girlfriend at the time a few days before the lockdown announcement. She had her last day of sixth form that day without knowing it, and I was going to have my last day at college the next day, again ignorant to that fact.
She comforted me as I cried in the train station, because I was just so scared of the situation as a whole, and how uncertain everything was. I remember seeing her walk off to her train platform, and a sort of sad fear washed over me as she disappeared just out of sight. We had literally no idea when we’d see each other again. It was months before we did.
Coming to terms with all that time that I ‘lost’ was really difficult. I spent a lot of the lockdown feeling very lonely, with a lot of time spent in tears. I felt like I was forgetting how to connect with my friends, and I yearned to do all the things in my relationship I had spent years waiting to do. Like a lot of people I missed my life, and I wanted it back.
Alongside the hardship, I spent a lot of time indulging in all the queer media I had missed out on. I had time to read books from lesbian history, watch TV shows, and learn a bit more about other LGBTQ+ people from my hours spent scrolling through things like TikTok.
Doing things like that helped make things easier a little, I felt more connected to the community, I was learning more about LGBTQ+ people and history, which I was able to carry into reflections I had on myself. It also helped me to realise that even though I was physically alone at that point, I wasn’t alone in what I was feeling, and I was justified to feel that way.
I know there will be a lot of other LGBTQ+ people who have struggled with mental health through the pandemic. To those 68% of LGBTQ+ young people who will have felt the same, or a similar way to me, I want you to know that how you feel is so valid.
It is devastating to realise how much we lost, and it’s only natural for that to come with a sense of loneliness. Have patience with yourself to sit with that feeling, like most with most things time helps.
Eventually we will all have our lives back in some way. I like to remind myself now that we didn’t ‘lose’ time, we just spent it differently than expected, and that’s okay.
Now we can spend our time doing whatever it is that makes us happy, we can spend it with all the other beautiful LGBTQ+ people we didn’t get to before. There is so much time left for us to use, and none of it will be lost on any of us.
Mara is a volunteer with Just Like Us, the LGBTQ+ young people’s charity.