Reflecting on the challenges of COVID-19 for the LGBTQIA+ community

This article was written by Keith Winestein, a member of the Speakers Collective. Keith shares his lived experience of mental health, HIV and AIDS to help others challenge prejudice and to change behaviour.

Lockdown helped me look at me – an ageing, single, gay man who survived one pandemic and is determined to survive Covid. So, what has my Covid experience been like?

It’s A Sin sparked questions. I realised I have issues. Deeply buried. Not dealt with in four decades. Survivor guilt, vicarious trauma, bereavement. These experiences affected me as a young gay man. Fear of HIV. Grief after losing friends to AIDS. I needed to talk about how had I survived the AIDS pandemic. Picking up the phone, older gay friends got it and really understood what I was feeling.

There are many gay men my age who experienced stigma and discrimination. Many of us still dealing with it. I don’t want to forget those years as a young gay man working in HIV and Gay rights. National AIDS Trust was the first workplace I could be authentic and open about my sexuality.

It concerns me that the LGBTQI+ community has higher rates of suicidal distress, anxiety and depression. Around 1 in 3 of us are dealing with mental health problems compared to 1 in 4 in the general population. People who are LGBTQI+ are more likely to experience poor mental health and may also be impacted because of other compounded prejudice (e.g. BAME and disability).

The current Covid pandemic has potentially worsened the mental health of 20+ million people in the UK. I am among those as I reflect on my life and the challenges of Covid recovery. To get through lockdown, I followed four of the Five Ways to Wellbeing:

  1. Connect with other people
    I share cooking, making incredible new vegetarian recipes. I support, check in and listen when someone feels lockdown is getting to them. I’ve done podcasts and appeared online discussing LGBT and mental health.
  2. Learn new skillsI’ve done online courses. Gained accreditation in Mental Health First Aid. Submitted articles on LGBTQI+ and Mental Health. I’m starting Radio Drama and LGBTQ+ writing workshops. In September, I’m going to university to convert my drama diploma into a BA Hons.
  3. Give to others
    I volunteer as a local Covid-19 Champion. Trustee with MenTalkHealth. I’m helping another charity design an anti-bullying social campaign. I support Queer Museum and am a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
  4. Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)Noticing seasons change. Spotting ‘new’ birds. Seeing snowdrops, daffodils, and my balcony spring into life.
  5. Be physically activeThis is the one I need to do more of now the weather is improving!

As a middle-aged gay man, my lived experience helps me embrace my identity. This has a positive impact on my wellbeing and confidence. I am free to express and accept myself with patience and to deal with whatever happens next. It will enable me to watch It’s a Sin again with acceptance, gratitude and pride.

A message from us

Good Thinking provides a range of resources to support your mental health, including NHS-approved wellbeing apps, expert advice, podcasts and videos.

The COVID-19 pandemic may remind you of other distressing times in your life. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, you can speak to someone confidentially or even by text – visit our urgent support section for details of local NHS 24/7 helplines and other support organisations.

If you’re feeling anxious, stressed or sad, you might also find the following useful:

Be Mindful (app)

Five ways to good mental wellbeing (article)

How to connect with nature to boost your wellbeing (article)

How to cope with bereavement and grief (article)

Make positive changes where you live (podcast)

Self-compassion workbook

Speakers Collective Mini-Series (videos)

What do you enjoy doing? How to focus on rewarding activities that will get you through the next six months (article)

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