Mental health issues for LGBT+ people compounded by Covid-19, Oireachtas hears

Better access to mental health and gender services needed, say advocates

Dr Vanessa Lacey of TENI said years-long waiting lists for transgender people seeking assessments have grown during the pandemic. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimon

Dr Vanessa Lacey of TENI said years-long waiting lists for transgender people seeking assessments have grown during the pandemic. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimon

 

LGBT+ people are facing “massive challenges” accessing health care throughout the pandemic, and pre-existing mental health problems have been “compounded” by Covid-19, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

The Oireachtas sub-committee on mental health heard from representatives from BelongTo Youth Services and the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland (TENI) on mental health issues for LGBT+ communities arising out of Covid-19 lockdowns.

Moninne Griffith, CEO of BelongTo Youth Services described the findings of a survey on LGBT+ mental health during the pandemic as “stark”.

Their research found that 93 per cent of LGBT+ young people were struggling with anxiety, stress and depression during Covid-19, in comparison with 53 per cent of non-LGBT+ youth.

“We’re fearful the devastating impact of Covid on the lives of LGBT youth will live long beyond the virus. Mental health problems have been exacerbated by Covid-19 and many feel isolated from support networks that love and support them for who they are,” Ms Griffith said.

There was a need for improved access to health care, better school curriculums on LGBT+ issues and legislation around problems such as hate speech and conversion therapy, the Committee heard.

“For young LGBT+ people who are not out, or who are but don’t have parental support, accessing mental health care is impossible,” Ms Griffith said.

The Mental Health (Capacity to Consent to Treatment) Bill would be helpful for young LGBT+ people to make decisions regarding their mental health, on parity with their physical health, she said.

Years-long waiting lists for transgender people seeking assessments have only grown during the pandemic, a TENI representative told the Committee.

“There are horror stories of people seeking assessments. The service is supposed to help people’s mental health but the anecdotal evidence is that it’s contributing to mental ill health.” Dr Vanessa Lacey, TENI’s Health and Education Manager said.

The Gender Identity adolescent service that was situated in Crumlin children’s hospital is no longer receiving further referrals, she said, adding that the service had collapsed and had no staff, despite previous funding for 5 positions.

Young people have been told they must reapply to be seen in the National Gender Service when they are over 17.

“Imagine the impact on the mental health of young people in that situation. One of the parents last night told me they’re currently on suicide watch as it is, but at least they have the hope of being seen. We all know if you take hope away it’s really problematic in terms of risk to life,” Dr Lacey said.

Labour Party Senator Annie Hoey said transgender people have endured “horrific and ghastly experience with gender services.”

“I don’t think a week goes by where I don’t see young trans people fundraising for transitions online and having to travel abroad,” she said.

Psychological support for trans people under 18 is currently provided by a clinic in London and should be moved to be provided by the Irish health service, alongside the development of a multidisciplinary team to support the delivery of the National Gender Service, it was recommended.

Éirénne Carroll, CEO of TENI, said there was a lack of discussion available in schools around gender identity, an absence of representation, and a lack of LGBT+ supportive spaces in schools, leading LGBT+ people to seek to avoid school.

Regarding conversion therapy, Deputy Mark Ward said it was shocking the issue had not been legislated on yet, describing the practice as “draconian and inhumane”.

While online hate speech directed at LGBT+ people did “not represent the majority of Irish people’s views and values”, Ms Griffith said the rising far-right are “good at manipulating truth and stirring up fear.”

Defining hate speech and funding the prosecution of hate crimes was important, Ms Griffith said.