Robyn is a young, bisexual trans woman cast aside by some of her closest friends and family. All because of who she is.
‘I’ve lost family, friends and an entire sense of community just for the act of coming out,’ she tells Gay Star News.
That ostracisation led her to a dark place of loneliness and isolation.
‘It can be incredibly difficult to navigate relationships, identity and society when you belong to more than one marginalised group. It feels like one part of me has to be sacrificed to appease the other be it my gender, sexuality or race,’ she says.
‘Loneliness can really take you to a dark place when you’re already feeling vulnerable and belittled by society for your identity.’
So Robyn went to the Albert Kennedy Trust (akt). It’s an organization committed to helping young LGBTI people who are homeless or in a housing crisis. Through akt she learnt how important chosen family could be.
‘I’ve needed akt’s services because there were times when they were the only ones willing to tell me I deserved to live and feel safe. Without them, I don’t know if I’d be here today,’ she says.
‘Knowing there’s people who take you as you are is a powerful and uplifting tool to fight loneliness.’
Loneliness and the LGBTI community
Sadly, Robyn’s case is not unique. Loneliness and isolation affect LGBTI people at much higher rates than other populations.
In 2011, the UK’s Stonewall organization released research around LGBTI over the age of 55. It found compared to straight people older LGBTI people were more likely to not have a partner. That study also found they were more likely to live alone, less likely to have children and see biological family.
Societal discrimination, prejudice and violence against the LGBTI community are the leading factors driving the loneliness epidemic.
A massive 2018 report in the JAMA Pediatrics journal showed young LGBTI people were three times more likely to try and take their own lives than straight youths. Trans youth were six times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.That study collated data from 35 other studies. The studies included responses from 2.4 million heterosexual adolescents and 113,468 non-straight students aged between 12 and 20. The respondents came from 10 countries.
‘Adolescents facing “non-conventional” sexual identity are at risk of higher self-threatening behaviors, independent of bullying and other risk factors,’ said the study’s lead author, Dr. Ester di Giacomo from the University of Milano-Bicocca.
‘I think that a difficulty in self-acceptance and social stigmatization might be keys for understanding such elevation in the risk of self-threatening behaviors.’
Reasons for loneliness
In 2013, researcher Michael Johnson released a study into the isolation experienced by LGBTI people. He found the following reasons as the main causes leading to isolation and loneliness:
- Concealing identity to stay safe: LGBTI people sometimes conform to heteronormative expectations to avoid appearing as LGBT and being discovered.
- Social and emotional isolation: Factors like this stop LGBTI people from being able to talk to friends, family and community about sexuality and gender identity. This leads to isolation. This is worse when it is difficult to make contact with an LGBTI community and can lead to social withdrawal.
- Not seeing LGBTI identity in the world: This ‘cognitive isolation’ is due to a lack of LGBTI-specific information or LGBTI role models. It means much of the information the community is exposed to is negative and harmful. This reinforces feelings of isolation.
- Knowing they are different: This on its own can be an extremely isolating feeling. When LGBTI people recognize that their life is going to be different to societal expectations because of sexual or gender identity – they could withdraw from their true identity. This is in an attempt to conform.
- LGBTI people are more likely to need mental health support: Depression often causes people to feel a huge lack of energy. Therefore they withdraw from social situations.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness and isolation are feelings that authorities and medical health professionals are only just beginning to understand.
The World Health Organisation refers to loneliness as the discrepancy between the number and quality of the relationships that you desire and those you actually have.
In 2017, the American Psychological Association labelled loneliness a ‘greater public health hazard than obesity’.
‘Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need — crucial to both well-being and survival,’ said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University.
British Prime Minister Theresa May recognized loneliness as a critical public health issue in 2018. She dedicated £1.8 million (US$2.6 million) in funding and appointed a Minister for Loneliness to tackle the epidemic.
‘Loneliness is one of the greatest public health challenges of our time,’ May said last year.
Every year Gay Star News runs Digital Pride. We do that because we want people to be able to experience Pride, no matter where they are in the world.
This year’s Digital Pride theme will tackle loneliness and isolation.
For the next week GSN has committed itself to opening up the discussion about this issue. We want to talk about how to tackle this serious issue and what we can all do to make a difference.
‘Loneliness affects us all at some point in our lives and that’s particularly important in a community like ours where people are more likely to suffer from poor mental health,’ said GSN’s editor-in-chief, Tris Reid-Smith.
‘But there is something we can do about it. We hope Digital Pride will spark a conversation about how to tackle loneliness and isolation in our community.
‘And we hope it will inspire people to reach out to a friend or acquaintance they think may be lonely or isolated. Digital Pride is a Pride designed to inspire change and that change is something you can start to make happen today.’
What is Digital Pride?
Digital Pride is the online movement, by Gay Star News, so you can take part in Pride whoever and wherever you are. Even if you are from a country where being LGBTI is criminalized or leaves you in danger – it’s a Pride festival you can be a part of.
In 2019, Digital Pride is tackling loneliness and isolation with articles and videos connecting LGBTI people. Join us by reaching out to someone who needs it. The festival takes place on Gay Star News from 29 April to 5 May 2019. Find out more.
If you or someone you know needs mental health support, please click here on this global list of resources.