The unseen impact of the lockdowns on the LGBT community
Every February marks LGBT+ History Month, which is aimed at bringing greater awareness about the history, people and matters concerning the LGBT+ community. This year, the month’s focus is on ‘Body, Mind, Spirit.’ Here, we look at why this theme is so vital.
The past year has seen the coronavirus pandemic have significant impacts on the nation’s mental health.,,, Not only because of the devastating effects of the virus itself, but also the overall impact of restrictions on how we live, work and socialise. Drinkaware’s latest Monitor revealed that LGBT members’ mental health has been impacted more from the lockdowns than the UK population as a whole. So, what has the data shown about LGBT mental health and drinking – and why should we be concerned?
Literature indicates that LGBT adults are generally more likely to be hazardous drinkers than heterosexual adults., However, our research has shown that during the first lockdown in 2020 (March – June) LGBT adults were, in fact, drinking less than they normally would compared to the UK average (33% LGBT adult drinkers vs 27% all UK adults drinkers). This continued when restrictions relaxed into the summer (35% vs 29%). LGBT respondents said they were drinking less than usual because they weren’t seeing their friends (67%) and because they weren’t going out (63%).
Drinking venues play an important role for many LGBT+ people. They are safe spaces and play an important role in socialising and integrating into the community without fear or discrimination. Restrictions and lockdowns caused by Covid-19 have likely caused this shift in drinking behaviour.
Lockdown and the significant mental health impact
Taken in isolation, the reduction in drinking is a positive outcome. However, this isn’t the only effect of lockdowns on the LGBT community. Our Monitor revealed that the pandemic has had a more significant impact on LGBT adults’ mental health than the UK population as a whole. For example, LGBT adults were much more likely to report their mental health had been negatively impacted by the pandemic to a large, or very large extent, than the UK average (25% vs 17%). In addition, LGBT adults were more likely to report feeling depressed (51% vs 40%), stressed (53% vs 43%), or anxious (51% vs 42%).
There are various socio-cultural factors that impact the queer community’s mental health more than the average population, which may stem from societal and systemic discrimination, abuse and trauma. As a result of the lockdowns and restrictions, mental health could be exacerbated by the inability to be in a safe space or not being able to interact or access normal support groups in the same way.
LGBT adults more likely to drink more when lockdown ends
Our Monitor showed that the LGBT group was more likely than the UK average to say they would likely start drinking more once lockdown ended, once they have access to drinking venues (9% vs 5%). With this mindset of drinking more alongside pre-existing mental health issues compounded by the pandemic, the question is, are both problems at risk of deepening?
Alcohol is a depressant, and can have a negative impact on mental health, making feelings of stress, anxiety and depression worse – or harder to deal with. It is possible that a dangerous cycle may form where one fuels the other, thus increasing the likelihood of mental health crises and risky drinking in the LGBT+ community.
Why safe alcohol-free spaces are needed for the LGBT+ community
For centuries, drinking venues have provided a safe space for the LGBT+ community. Could more community-based, alcohol-free spaces for the queer community provide an alternative to alcohol-based socialising, where people can interact without the pressures of binge drinking, or low-cost alcohol that can contribute to someone’s pre-existing mental health issues?
Taking drink-free days and introducing different alcohol-free activities or alternatives can be a great step in formulating new habits or hobbies. The pandemic has highlighted the worrying mental health issues in the LGBT+ community compared to the UK population. Once lockdowns have come to an end, it provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the mental health issues within the LGBT+ community and the support they need. It provides an opportunity for the community to create a safe space to socialise and support each other in an environment that doesn’t have an emphasis on alcohol.
Data comes from the Drinkaware Monitor 2020. Research was conducted by YouGov. Base: LGBT adults, n=974; UK adults, n=9,046. Data extracted from the following questions: ‘Which of the following best describes your sexuality?’ ‘LGB’, n=952 OR ‘Is your gender the same as the sex assigned to you at birth? ‘No’ n=79.
 Dawson, D. L., & Golijani-Moghaddam, N. (2020). COVID-19: Psychological flexibility, coping, mental health, and wellbeing in the UK during the pandemic. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 17, 126-134.
 Jacob, L., Smith, L., Armstrong, N. C., Yakkundi, A., Barnett, Y., Butler, L., ... & Tully, M. A. (2021). Alcohol use and mental health during COVID-19 lockdown: A cross-sectional study in a sample of UK adults. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 219, 108488.
 Niedzwiedz, C. L., Green, M. J., Benzeval, M., Campbell, D., Craig, P., Demou, E., ... & Katikireddi, S. V. (2020). Mental health and health behaviours before and during the initial phase of the COVID-19 lockdown: longitudinal analyses of the UK Household Longitudinal Study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
 Data extracted from following questions: ‘Which of the following best describes your sexuality?’ ‘LGB’, n=952 OR ‘Is your gender the same as the sex assigned to you at birth? ‘No’ n=79.
 Green, K. E., & Feinstein, B. A. (2012). Substance use in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: an update on empirical research and implications for treatment. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 26(2), 265. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/a0025424
 Hughes, T. L., Wilsnack, S. C., & Kantor, L. W. (2016). The influence of gender and sexual orientation on alcohol use and alcohol-related problems: toward a global perspective. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27159819/