A lack of social connections within Hong Kong’s LGBT community during the Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating existing mental health problems and worsening family conflicts, a study has found.

The study, conducted by the Sexualities Research Programme at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), is one of the first into the effects of the pandemic on mental health within the community.

lgbt gay pride equality 2017
FIle Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The findings show that over half of those surveyed experienced moderate to high levels of worry about their health and financial situation while a third felt disconnected from the wider LGBT community.

It also found that cases of anxiety and depression are growing among members of the community in Hong Kong during the pandemic. The study was a joint endeavour by academics from CUHK, the Education University of Hong Kong, and the London School of Economics.

“The current findings indicated that the depressive and anxiety symptoms of LGB people were even more pronounced during the Covid-19 pandemic, which warrants further attention and targeted intervention,” said Dr. Randolph Chun Ho Chan, one of the academics involved.

mental health
File photo: Adrian Swancar, via Unsplash.

“In addition, the present study showed that LGB people who were younger and with a lower socioeconomic status reported a greater disruption in daily routine and a higher level of actual financial strain. “

Not isolated cases

The pandemic has exacerbated existing problems for the community in the workplace and in the family setting.

Grassroots members of the LGBT community are particularly vulnerable. Tommy Chen, a spokesperson for the NGO Rainbow Action, told HKFP that many have approached the organisation for financial support after losing their sources of income during the pandemic. “These aren’t isolated cases,” he said.

lgbt gay pride equality 2017
Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Chen believes the lack of legislation to criminalise workplace discrimination against gay people means that more openly LGBT employees are sacked. “In Hong Kong it’s totally legal to fire somebody because they are gay.”

The arrival of the coronavirus has also complicated access to the HIV medication, PrEP, which was already difficult to access in Hong Kong. “How the gay community accesses PrEP is to travel to Thailand. Now they can’t do that during Covid-19,” he said.

Gay people forced to stay at home with non-supportive parents or abusive partners face increased pressure. The lack of privacy in Hong Kong’s cramped flats is also a source of strain for LGBT individuals who face discrimination from their kin, Chen said.

“There have been many international studies that show domestic violence gets worse during Covid-19, but there are not many studies in Hong Kong,” he said, adding that he hoped the new study would raise awareness of LGBT problems during the pandemic.

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.