Pandemic Places Alarming Pressure on Transgender Mental Health

Even as the coronavirus has upended lives throughout the country, it has taken a deep toll on the transgender community, a population that has long struggled with higher rates of mental illness and poor medical care because of discrimination and abuse.

Since the pandemic began, crisis calls to Trans Lifeline — a crisis telephone line staffed by transgender people — have risen 40 percent and continue to climb. At Whitman-Walker, an LGBTQ-focused community health center in Washington, mental health providers are seeing 25 percent more patients than they did before the pandemic, and they are no longer able to accept new referrals. Transgender peer support groups at Whitman-Walker have also reached capacity since the start of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, advocates say some are experiencing more abuse than usual, especially as some are forced to move back home or stay closer to people who don’t support them. Homicides of transgender people, for example, have skyrocketed. In 2019, the Human Rights Campaign tracked at least 27 deaths nationally from violence against transgender and gender nonconforming people. In the first half of this year, the homicide total has already reached 26, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

In recent months, the cratering economy has alarmed many in the transgender population, which experiences a substantially higher rate of unemployment and workplace discrimination.

Advocates for transgender rights say unemployment has a domino effect: lack of jobs means lack of insurance and medical care. Such struggles combined with isolation have placed increasing psychological pressure on a population already beset with high rates of suicide and mental health crises.

While studies have shown the coronavirus has disproportionately infected and killed African Americans and Hispanics, the extent of the coronavirus’s effect on the transgender community is unclear because most states do not collect data on the LGBTQ community. In recent weeks — five months into the pandemic — California became one of the few to begin doing so.

Experts are particularly worried about an alarming increase in mental health problems. The pandemic has increased anxiety and depression across the country, and transgender people may be enduring the additional stresses of the pandemic with an already elevated risk for mental crises.

Transgender mental health counselors say they have seen signs those struggles have increased in intensity during the pandemic.

Advocates say transgender people are also more vulnerable during the pandemic because of how closely America has tied access to health care to employment.

The pandemic has made jobs — and the employer-based insurance it offers — a lifeline that transgender people cannot afford to lose, which for some has meant hiding who they are during this time of crisis, crisis counselors say.

Beyond loss of insurance, unemployment puts food, rent and other necessities out of reach, increasing anxiety and chances of mental health crises, counselors say. “There is a joke in the community that we’re always passing the same $15 around to each others’ fundraisers,” Elena Rose Vera, executive director of Trans Lifeline, said. “That’s been true for as long as I’ve been part of the community. But now more than ever, I’m seeing fundraisers for rent, for food. The need is enormous.”

Excerpted from “‘The volume has been turned up on everything’: Pandemic places alarming pressure on transgender mental health” in The Washington Post. Read the full article.

Source: The Washington Post |‘The volume has been turned up on everything’: Pandemic places alarming pressure on transgender mental health, | © 2020 The Washington Post

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