LGBTQIA+ mental health and peer support

Access relevant support from those who’ve been there

Kia kaha – Be strong, Kia Maia – Be brave, Kia manawanui – Be steadfast

Believe in yourself, or trust others that believe in you.

COVID-19 has been challenging for everyone. However, there have been unique difficulties for certain sectors of society. One of these is the community made up of LGBTQIA+ people. When you’re sick or stressed, you need support from people who get you. Rainbow community peer support services can help.

(Health Navigator NZ and Te Whatu Ora | Health New Zealand, Waitematā, 2022)
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What is LGBTQIA+?

LGBTQI+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and agender people. The “plus” is there to include those who don’t identify with any label and the “Q” can also refer to “questioning” or exploring orientation and identity.

LGBTQIA+ is an umbrella term which includes tāhine, takatāpui and other Māori gender minorities. Takatāpui is a traditional Māori term that means intimate companion of the same sex. It has been reclaimed by some Māori to describe their diverse sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics. The umbrella term also includes other indigenous genders such as fa’afafine, fa’atama, leiti and akava’ine. There are a variety of different identity terms and labels that can be used to refer to this wider community. LGBTQIA+ will be used to be as inclusive as possible.

Read more about gender diversity.

Image credit: Health Navigator NZ

What sort of challenges do people in the LGBTQI+ community face as a result of COVID-19?

Those in the LGBTQIA+ community already experience poorer mental health and mental distress. This results from discrimination, stigmatisation, violence, disparities and differences connected to their LGBTIQA+ status. They also often feel excluded within their whānau, communities and wider society. 

COVID-19 has amplified this distress, putting this community at greater risk for anxiety, depression and self harm.

How has lockdown made things worse?

A Ministry of Youth Development study on the experiences of COVID-19 for takatāpui, queer, gender diverse and intersex young people aged 16 to 24 years found:

  • 9 out of 10 respondents agreed or strongly agreed to feeling depressed/and or anxious.
  • 7 out of 10 reported feeling isolated and lonely.
  • 3 out of 10 used drugs and alcohol to cope.
  • 2 in 10 encountered negativities towards their sexual orientation.
  • 1 in 10 did not feel safe in their bubble.
  • 1 in 10 encountered negativities towards their gender identity.
  • 1 in 10 experienced abuse.
  • 1 in 10 reported being harassed or bullied online.

What has happened as a result of COVID-19 in New Zealand?

  • People within the LGBTQIA+ community have experienced isolation from their usual sources of support (eg, peer groups, schools, community groups) and this has lead to more mental health problems.  
  • Healthcare resources have been focused on COVID-19. This has lead to uncertain access to gender-affirming healthcare (eg, testosterone shots) and a reluctance to engage with health services as usual supports are not available.
  • Those with weakened immune systems have had increased anxiety about the COVID-19 virus.
  • Higher rates of family violence and lack of family support.
  • Employment and housing concerns due to discrimination in the wider community.
  • While funds were made available to support some population groups, the LGBTQI+ community was not one of them.
  • Those in the LGBTQIA+ community with other concerns, eg, disability or aging, have been even more affected by isolation and lack of support.
  • The COVID-19 situation has compounded the impact of colonisation and historical trauma for rangatahi takatāpui (Māori with diverse genders, sexualities and sex characteristics).

How can I assist members of the LGBTQI+ community?

  • Acknowledge this community exists.
  • Use appropriate terminology when discussing issues of sexual orientation or gender identity. Inclusive language that affirms a person’s identity provides respect and promotes visibility for important issues and helps improve the mental health of LGBTQIA+ people. 
  • If you are not sure of a person’s preferred terms (especially pronouns), ask how they would like to be addressed, eg, trans, gender diverse and non-binary people may wish to be referred to by the pronouns “they” and “them” instead of the gendered pronouns “she” and “her” or “he” and “him”. It is a simple thing to provide respect in this way. 

How can I manage isolation or another lockdown as a member of the LGBTQI+ community?

1. Share your true self

If you feel ready, let your whānau and loved ones know who you really are. You may find that sharing who you are can strengthen relationships and understanding. However, it can be overwhelming to think about how this information will be received and to be fearful of disappointing or alienating others or not being understood. 

Isolating with others as a result of COVID-19 means that concealing your true self may be a daunting and exhausting task. Some people are taking this opportunity of the pandemic to risk opening up to their loved ones. 

Don’t do this if you are fearful of things going badly and you think you could end up at risk of violence or emotional abuse or homelessness.

2. Explain how you feel

Providing information to whānau about things that are important to you and why they are important to you is helpful. This includes sharing information about your preferred name and the pronouns that you want used to describe you as well as more information about how you see yourself. 

If it is too hard to do this directly, there are many resources and videos that explain things. For example the them.us website and this beyond blue resource have good options.  

3. Use technology to connect with others

One of the biggest difficulties when isolating with people who don’t understand your situation, or don’t approve of who you are, is the risk of losing touch with your sense of self. Especially in an abusive or non-affirming environment, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that you are somehow “wrong” or not worthy of respect. Staying in touch with others who reassure your sense of self will make a huge difference. 

There are many free and confidential forums and online communities like Trevor Space where you can be surrounded by people who understand. One positive thing about COVID-19 is that many online communities have flourished. 

4. Balance your social media use with real connection

Social media can be a great way of staying connected, but it is also a black hole for time and too much can have mental health impacts. Set a limit for your social media use and then aim to connect with those around you. If your environment is not supportive, have a phone or video chat. 

5. Find out about LGBTQIA+ culture and history

Connecting to something greater than yourself can be empowering. There are books, movies and podcasts with LGBTQI+ characters as well as opportunities to learn about inspiring people or leaders in the LGBTQIA+ community. 

6. Learn about the practical aspects of COVID-19

You will have to be an active participant in your health – especially if you have specific health needs. For example, the internet has many useful resources depending on your situation. Some practices can increase your risk of health consequences, so it is important to be aware. An example is navigating COVID-19 and chest binding.  

7. Allow yourself to feel

You might have become very good at hiding your true feelings. The pandemic can stir up lots of old feelings and past trauma. Let yourself feel what you feel and be understanding if you are low or sad or anxious. Your feelings are legitimate. Remind yourself of what you have overcome in the past and that you can handle this too.

8. Seek support

You don’t have to go through this alone. If you don’t have support around you, reach out to the wider community. There are various options in the resources below. One option is to call 0800 OUTLINE to talk to a trained member of the LGBTQI+ community between 6pm-9pm. The OutLine Aotearoa service is free and confidential. They also offer face-to-face or Skype counselling specialising in gender identity and sexual orientation ($80–120 depending on your financial situation) and a free Trans & Non-Binary Peer Support Service in Auckland.

9. Create your own private space

Your own sanctuary will always be helpful but it will be vital if you are living in an unsupportive environment or a homophobic, transphobic or queerphobic home. Creating a small space where you can be your authentic self will help your mood and mental health. Some people find comfort in objects that remind them of who they are. The key is to find ways to hold onto your identity, even if you can’t show it to those around you.

Resources

Here are some resources you may find useful.

LGBTQI+ support resources.
Gender diversity support resources.
Rainbow organisations key support services available. 
Takatapui resources with a takatāpui specific focus as well as general resources and information.
Beyond blue guide for parents and families of young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, gender diverse or who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity.
Intersex COVID-19 provides COVID-19 resources for the intersex community and for the LGBTQI+ community.
Trevor Space is an affirming online international community for LGBTQI+ young people aged 13–24 years.
Them.us is a website providing a range of topics for the LGBTQI+ community.

Health services 

Auckland Sexual Health Service 0800 739 432 or (09) 6309770

This is a free Auckland-based specialist service offering confidential wide-ranging sexual health care including gender-affirming healthcare and initiation of hormonal therapies, for gender diverse and transgender clients. Doctors' referrals are not necessary but appointments are essential. 

CADS: Rainbow Focus  (09) 845 1844
CADS is the Community Alcohol and Drug Service. It provides free Auckland-based specialist counselling, group support and information to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (Rainbow) communities in Auckland. 

References

  1. COVID-19 support Te Ngākau Kahukura, NZ
  2. Youth pulse check survey Ministry of Youth Development, NZ
  3. COVID-19 youth recovery plan 2020-2022 Health Promotion Agency, NZ, 2020
  4. LGBT+ population of Aotearoa – Year ended June 2020 Stats, NZ
  5. Radford-Poupard J. Experiences of COVID-19 for takatāpui, queer, gender diverse, and intersex young people aged 16-24 Ministry of Youth Development, NZ, 2021
  6. Lockdown having 'pernicious impact' on LGBT community's mental health The Guardian, UK, 2020 
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.