Black LGBT+ young people’s mental health has been severely impacted by the pandemic according to groundbreaking new research, HuffPost UK can reveal.
While LGBT+ young people are more than twice as likely to be worried about the state of their mental health than their non-LGBT+ peers since the pandemic began, a new survey by charity Just Like Us has shown that Black young people within this cohort face increased struggles.
Black LGBT+ young people are more likely to be concerned about their mental health with almost two-thirds (61%) worrying about this on a daily basis, compared to just over half (51%) of white LGBT+ young people.
Chief Executive of Just Like Us, Dominic Arnall, says the pandemic is the “biggest risk to the mental health of LGBT+ young people since Section 28” and is calling for greater awareness of the unique issues that young Black people in this group particularly face.
“It’s devastating to see that Black LGBT+ young people have been particularly impacted by the pandemic.
“There needs to be much more awareness around the issues that Black LGBT+ young people are facing, and an intersectional approach needs to be taken to inclusive education in schools and mental health care for young people.
“It’s so important that if you are celebrating LGBT+ History month or School Diversity Week, make sure you include a diverse range of LGBT+ people including Black LGBT+ people and engage with organisations that do specific work in this area.”
Black LGBT+ young people are also more likely to be experiencing depression, anxiety disorder, panic attacks, and alcohol or drug dependence.
For white LGBT+ pupils, the likelihood of experiencing these are significantly lower: just under half of those surveyed say they have or are experiencing depression, an anxiety disorder, and fewer were enduring panic attacks, alcohol or drug dependence.
Black LGBT+ young people are also significantly more likely to be experiencing difficulties at home in lockdown, with a third (29%) reporting daily tension in the place they’re living, compared to a quarter (25%) of white LGBT+ young people.
Last year’s heightened racial tensions around Black Lives Matter protests have also compounded feelings of isolation among young, queer Black people.
Samuel Picton, 20, who’s of dual ethnicity – white and Black Caribbean – said growing up in a small, predominantly white northern town can be quite isolating, due to limited understanding of being Black and LGBT+.
Speaking to HuffPost UK, he said: “I have friends who, like myself, are Black or mixed race and feel the same. I also know from my experience that the momentum that Black Lives Matter gained last summer had it’s challenges because of the pandemic. The protests were being blamed for a potential rise in Covid-19 cases, and the general experience of being on social media during this time - during a national lockdown - was very draining.”
The Yorkshire-based student – who’s cisgender and gay – said while some young people have found an outlet through social media during the lockdown – it can be a toxic place that’s rife with negativity and, in his case, homophobia.
“I was removing people from my social media daily because of negative views. Social media in general can be so damaging to your mental health but I know many will have found an outlet in it during lockdown.
“To complicate things, seeing homophobic tweets from within the Black community then evokes the feeling of being othered within your own community. I’ve definitely been worried about my mental health over the past year because of these things [...].”
Picton is a youth ambassador for Just Like Us ambassador and regularly speaks in schools – virtually at the moment – about being LGBT+ to help tackle the issues of isolation these pupils are facing.
Educational institutions need to do more, he said, and in this case use of technology could create safe spaces for students who require it.
“I think that a very small silver lining of this pandemic is that platforms such as Zoom have made it easier to create remote communities and this should definitely be utilised in the future in order to create safe spaces for young Black LGBT+ people,” Picton added.
“Having support groups in the local community would obviously be great, but certain communities may not have the funding, facilities or simply enough openly black LGBT+ people within them to make these groups up. Using Zoom to host groups, workshops, or just general chats with young Black LGBT+ people would definitely help to tackle these issues of isolation.”
Speaking to the mental and emotional challenges faced by young LGBT+ people more generally, Dominic Arnall from Just Like Us said: “This is the biggest risk to the mental health of LGBT+ young people since Section 28.”
Section 28 of the Local Government Act, enacted in May 1988, prohibited “the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities”
“The pandemic has been a difficult period for everyone, but our research clearly demonstrates the impact of coronavirus and lockdown has not fallen evenly,” the chief executive added.
Moreover, the pandemic has particularly impacted the mental health of LGBT+ young people eligible for free school meals, transgender young people, and LGBT+ young people with a disability – 65% of these groups report are worrying on a daily basis for their mental health.
One secondary school pupil, 14-year-old Matthew, is pansexual and from Coventry. He said: “It has been a really scary time for everyone. I definitely feel less motivated and it’s very quiet.
“I also have had some panic attacks and am worried about being forgotten. If you don’t have a home life where people are accepting of being LGBT+, you need it to be accepted at school so you know it’s OK.”
Just Like Us surveyed 2,934 secondary school pupils (including 1,140 LGBT+ young people) in Years 7-13 (ages 11 to 18) across 375 schools and colleges in December 2020 and January 2021.
The data forms part of a larger report into inclusive education and the experiences of LGBT+ young people that charity Just Like Us is due to publish in June 2021.
Useful websites and helplines:
- London Lesbian & Gay switchboard (LLGS) is a free confidential support & information helpline for LGBT communities throughout the UK | 0300 330 0630
- Manchester Lesbian and Gay Switchboard is a free support, information and referral service for the Manchester and North-West area | 0161 235 8000
- Stonewall for more information on other LGBT services and helplines | 08000 502020