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LGBT+ helplines see surge in calls as coronavirus heightens mental health problems

LGBT+ helplines see surge in calls as coronavirus heightens mental health problems

  • Plus links to support services around the world and the latest COVID-19 advice.
The team from Switchboard.

LGBT+ helplines have switched to remote working but are seeing sharply higher call levels as people struggle with their mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.

The helplines say many of the people contacting them are struggling with anxiety, loneliness and isolation. Some are also facing domestic violence or abuse from partners or from homophobic and transphobic families.

The two leading, historic UK LGBT+ helplines, Switchboard and the LGBT Foundation, are both now working from people’s bedrooms.

Switchboard in London has been operating for 46 years. But this is the first time it’s phone room has closed. Volunteers have redirected calls to operator’s homes.

For the LGBT Foundation in Manchester, the switch to working from bedrooms is like a return to the past. Six gay men founded the organization and started to take calls from a back bedroom in the city in northwest England 45 years ago.

Meanwhile both services are seeing a surge in the number of callers. LGBT Foundation says calls have doubled from the same period in 2019. Demand is so great they have redirected resources from other parts of the charity to the helpline.

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Natasha Walker is co-chair of Switchboard. She says:

‘Almost every single call we are taking at the moment features increased anxiety and isolation because of COVID-19.

‘It’s magnifying any existing situation those people may be in already – from domestic violence, to transphobia, biphobia and homophobia, and of course loneliness, something we have been battling heavily against within the LGBTQ+ communities for a while now.

‘We also operate an instant message and email service, something which is especially important right now, as it may be harder to find a private space to speak on the phone.’

Meanwhile Paul Martin OBE, chief executive of LGBT Foundation, says:

‘We are seeing some young LGBT teenagers trapped in their homes with abusive parents and not even school to provide respite, trans people no longer being able to live as the gender they identify due to family pressures and people in same-sex relationships isolated with their abusive partner.’

Meanwhile Kayla Le Roux, a member of staff from LGBT Foundation’s helpline team, says the number of callers proves how challenging a time it is.

Le Roux adds: ‘We’ve had people ringing up because they’re concerned about the effect Covid-19 would have on existing health issues.

‘People are calling about being trapped with families or partners who are hostile to them, or just like everyone else are scared about what the future holds.’

Martin says they are particularly aware of vulnerable people in the community. These include those over 70, with underlying health conditions or living in domestic abuse situations.

He says: ‘I strongly encourage you to reach out and call our helpline, where you will find a listening ear and someone who will always be there for you.’

Finding help and coronavirus advice

Switchboard operates a telephone line, instant messaging and email service from 10am to 10pm UK time every day.

To reach Switchboard call 0300 330 0630, email at [email protected], or via instant messaging here.

Alternatively, LGBT Foundation runs 10am to 6pm UK time, Monday to Friday. You can call 0345 330 3030 or email [email protected]

Moreover, you can find a list of LGBT+ resources and helplines all around the world here. Please note, some of the helplines may have different operating hours during the pandemic.

Meanwhile there’s advice about your sex life during the coronavirus pandemic here.

And there’s more advice for HIV positive people about coronavirus here.

Finally there’s general coronavirus health advice for all LGBT+ people here. This includes links to advice for people with cancer and to LGBT+ supportive medical services in the US.