Anxiety, Depression Among LGBT Adults Worsened During COVID-19 Pandemic

How organizations can support these workers

Matt Gonzales By Matt Gonzales January 12, 2023
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Anxiety, Depression Among LGBT Adults Worsened During COVID-19 Pandemic

​2022 was a tough year for Ben Greene.

The public speaker and LGBT advocate dealt with many arduous challenges that created tension in his personal and professional life. Greene, who is transgender, experienced severe anxiety and bouts of depression—as do many LGBT workers.

"Imagine that you have 10 computer processors running in your brain … that represent your focus, attention and creativity," he explained. "For many LGBT people with anxiety, one, two or even all of those processors might be a never-ending loop of anticipating a [state or federal] bill targeting us, anticipating the next tragedy, the next hate crime or the next microaggression."

LGBT adults have consistently reported higher rates of symptoms of both anxiety and depression when compared with non-LGBT adults during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey.

The survey revealed that younger respondents—individuals ages 18 to 29—struggled with both anxiety and depression symptoms regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, younger LGBT respondents experienced these effects the most.

Conducted over two phases with different sets of respondents, the survey indicated that:

  • Younger LGBT respondents (about 60 percent) in both phases were more likely to report anxiety symptoms than older LGBT respondents.
  • Anxiety symptoms among LGBT respondents 65 and older decreased somewhat as the pandemic progressed: About 26 percent reported anxiety symptoms in the first phase, compared with 19 percent in the second phase.
  • In both phases, at least half of young LGBT respondents reported depression symptoms, but the share of those 65 and older with depression symptoms decreased from about 25 percent in the first phase to about 16 percent in the second phase.
  • Younger adults, especially LGBT adults, were the most susceptible to anxiety and depression.  Older, non-LGBT adults were less likely to report symptoms of these conditions.

Geri Johnson, chief operating officer for public relations firm Next PR, was "unsurprised" by the results.

"Many of us don't feel safe to be ourselves, especially at work where we may not have an accepting community of support," she said. "Starting with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been experiencing an increased level of uncertainty and threats to our safety."

Effects of Feeling Psychologically Unsafe

Johnson, who identifies as queer, lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., where a mass shooting occurred at an LGBT nightclub in November 2022. Her community is still processing the grief caused by the event, which she says sparked fear among LGBT individuals. Other recent mass shootings have targeted people of color.

Johnson and her wife serve on the board of an LGBT youth center that has had to temporarily close its physical location because the LGBT youth don't feel safe.

"Our friends don't feel safe to go out," she said. "These examples—and many more like them—lead to fear, anxiety and depression."

Studies have shown that mental health problems and feeling psychologically unsafe can influence workplace productivity, leading to difficulties concentrating, slowed thoughts, tardiness, missed deadlines, issues connecting with co-workers and poor work quality.

Mental Health Resources for LGBT Workers

A lack of support, solutions and prevention efforts by employers compounds LGBT workers' mental health problems, according to an article by Harvard Business Review. The absence of these efforts also negatively affects their sense of inclusion and belonging in the workplace.

"For LGBTQ+ employees who may not be out at work, they are not able to seek support from colleagues or opt into services like EAPs [employee assistance programs] that they may fear will expose their identity," said Jean-Marie Navetta, director of learning and inclusion at PFLAG National. "It becomes more than a cumulative issue, but a layered one that is constantly adding pressure to LGBTQ+ lives."

LGBT workers also have difficulties finding therapists who understand their community's health needs or who simply accept and affirm their identity. If they can't find a therapist, these resources can help:

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. This suicide-prevention network of more than 200 crisis centers provides 24/7 service. Dial 988 or visit 988lifeline.org.

The Trevor Project. This suicide awareness nonprofit for LGBT young people provides a confidential, secure and trained specialist. Call 866-488-7386 or text START to 678678.

Trans Lifeline. This peer-support phone service is run by transgender people for those who are trans or questioning. Call 877-565-8860.

SAGE USA. SAGE connects LGBT older people who want to talk with friendly, certified crisis responders who are ready to listen. Call the free SAGE Hotline at 877-360-LGBT (5428).

Greene implored employers to understand that LGBT workers are carrying burdens. He also encouraged them to be prepared to offer resources that address the warning signs of poor mental health and to act on behalf of their employees.

"Not only will your company's voice help stop the increase in homophobia and transphobia," he explained, "but it will send a clear message to your LGBTQ employees and potential employees that you see them and are firmly on their side."


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