Panic during a pandemic; that some of us were not prepared for

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Trigger Warning: Mention of suicide

When the pandemic of COVID-19 hit India, forcing the country into a strict lockdown, the number of mental health issues started skyrocketing. There have been so many layoffs, salary cuts, and a rise in youth unemployment, which has created a huge psychological impact in the country. Now, with all this, imagine being stuck at home with people who do not accept you for who you are, completely ignoring the “live and let live” formula.

If you are a queer/transgender individual living in a toxic environment, you don’t have to imagine; it is much too real. The global crisis and the consequent need to maintain physical distancing has taken away the privilege of stepping out of home and connecting with families of choice, from so many queer individuals. This has further led to increased levels of hostility inside such homes, which even neighbors won’t know about.

Many queer/transgender clients in therapy sessions have expressed feeling invalidated, being dead named (the use of birth/former name of a transgender or non-binary person instead of their chosen name), and experiencing high levels of dysphoria (feelings of distress caused due to an incongruence between sex assigned at birth and gender identity), which has further made them feel anxious or depressed. In addition to this, there have been recent cases of people dying of suicide, which further acts as an emotional trigger among people who are living with unsupportive families/roommates. Staying indoors to maintain safety has become more of an irony for a lot of queer/transgender individuals who are feeling increasingly unsafe with each passing day.

In the last six months of taking my counseling practice online, there has been an increase in suicide prevention sought by clients struggling with anxiety, depression, or other such mental health issues. A client of mine, an 18-year-old non-binary person, during therapy sessions, spoke about how their anxiety has increased due to the presence of their father at home, leading to constant arguments with the family. The client also mentioned losing their appetite as each meal together sprung up a new topic for the family to fight about, including issues like how the client expresses their gender. Previously when the country was ‘unlocked’, people like my client and other queer/transgender individuals had the option to step out of their homes, experience some amount of freedom, and escape such triggering situations.

However, they are now experiencing a loss of freedom, coupled with the arduous task of trying to navigate through the uncertainty that lies ahead. W-F-H; work from home, an abbreviation that pops up on so many Instagram stories is a privilege at this point in a world where one hears about queer/transgender individuals who are currently homeless, unemployed, and living off donations and crowdfunding. Megha Sheth, (she/her), a queer affirmative counselling psychologist, who has been virtually counseling a diverse range of clients during the pandemic adds that “In an already crumbling public health infrastructure that doesn’t recognise mental health as part of it, it has been very difficult for the marginalized LGBTQIA+ community to navigate the added burden of a pandemic and rising unemployment”.

It has taken a global pandemic to bring our attention to the rising mental health issues in the country and the world over. Furthermore, there is still a huge amount of social injustice that acts as a contributing factor to make the pandemic a nightmare for many queer/transgender individuals. Availing mental health services might be an option for some; but how will the rest of the LGBTQIA+ community deal with such hostility and discrimination coming their way – especially coming from spaces that are supposed to make them feel ‘safe’?

Written by Richa Vashista (she/her), an independent mental health professional, queer affirmative and trauma-informed, working at the intersections of Gender and Sexuality since 2014.

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