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Trapped In ‘The Covid Closet’ and texting for support

Shout volunteer Alexis Caught shares his support for the LGBTQ+ community during lockdown, and gives advice on how parents can support their children during this time.

It was past midnight, and I was logged on from home as a volunteer for Shout 85258, a free, 24/7 confidential mental health text message service, when I took a conversation with a young texter. At 14 and with a history of self-harm, they said they were about to take their own life.* We talked, by text, I listened and gave them room to share their crisis. They were trapped in the closet at home, fearful of coming out to their family about their sexuality, and feeling unable to go on living a lie during the pressures of lockdown.

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More than half of texters who identify as LGBTQ+ said that they contacted Shout because they didn’t have anyone else to turn to.

This was one conversation, alarming that a 14-year-old should feel like they had no options other than taking their own life, but sadly it was not a one-off. Shout 85258 has held nearly 625,000 conversations with people who are struggling to cope. Most texters are under 24 and a large proportion of them are people who identify as LGBTQ+. The insight from this data and the experience of the rigorously trained volunteers provide an invaluable resource for parents and carers of teenagers.

Just as the 14-year-old texter that night said they felt unable to turn to their family for support, more than half (55%) of texters who identify as LGBTQ+ said that they contacted Shout because they didn’t have anyone else to turn to.

It is not always easy to connect emotionally with young people, and having no option but to be perhaps more connected than usual doesn’t necessarily help, but there are techniques that parents and carers can try.

Many adult LGBTQ+ people talk about the fact that our parents said they didn’t mention anything related to sexuality when we were growing up because they were worried about putting on “pressure”, or allowing you to “tell us in your own time”. Well-intentioned perhaps, but fostering an open family environment where children feel safe and able to speak to those closest to them about deeply personal, and often awkward, things can make a big difference to a person's mental wellbeing in childhood and beyond.

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Words matter. Gender neutral questions and terms would make me feel less worried about coming out.

This takes work but is worth it. The younger a Shout 85258 texter, the more likely they are to identify as LGBTQ+. Given a third of LGBTQ+ texters mention suicidal thoughts as an issue, this is particularly worrying, as is the fact that young LGBTQ+ texters in contact with Shout are 40% more likely to discuss self-harm.

It is reassuring that young people are texting Shout to 85258 for support. The ability to talk by text, confidentially, with a trained volunteer, is clearly helping people find a calmer place to cope with a whole range of pressures.

Showing empathy by making an attempt to step into a texter’s shoes is a big part of our training and, as an LGBTQ+ person trained to support others, is what I think would benefit me if I was a 14-year-old, trapped in the closet during lockdown.

Words matter. Gender neutral questions and terms would make me feel less worried about coming out, so “is there someone you have a crush on”, rather than, “is there a girl you like”.

Taking a stance matters. Hearing a parent talk against homophobia or transphobia gives me an ally and creates room for a non-judgemental discussion.

What we see and hear matters. Adult LGBTQ+ people talk about what they watched or listened to, often secretly, that helped them understand their sexuality. We can share this journey. Watching positive, diverse LGBTQ+ role models and characters in TV and film, or hearing in podcasts or playlists, can be a natural way into personal conversations.

Home needs to be a safe sanctuary. Just as adults bring the pressures of work home, LGBTQ+ children can bring home the very real effects of homophobic bullying, which is experienced by 3 out of every 4 young LGBTQ+ people. The corridors and playgrounds may be empty in lockdown, but the bullying is still happening; on social media and so actually in our homes.

Testimonials

Taking a stance matters. Hearing a parent talk against homophobia or transphobia gives me an ally and creates room for a non-judgemental discussion.

Breakthrough moments like Pride and LGBTQ+ history month must be seized. The marches, protests and parties were cancelled last year, but getting involved with events such as Pride and LGBTQ+ history month every year is a way to talk to children about emotions, sexuality and gender identity. Regardless of whether a young person is LGBTQ+, opening up this conversation with them can help make society safer and more supportive for everyone. For young men, it’s a chance to resist the pressure to conform to a type of traditional masculinity, whilst exploring and feeling comfortable with themselves and their identity.

So let’s start Pride for parents. A moment every year to remind ourselves to fill our homes with love, because love is equal and starts at home, with those we love the most.

If you or someone you know needs support, you can text Shout to 85258 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained Shout Volunteer.

Alexis Caught is a volunteer for Shout 85258, writer, rugby player, co-host of the Qmmunity podcast and mental health advocate

*Please note some details have been changed to protect anonymity