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Feelings of anxiety, loneliness widespread among gay, bi, other MSM amid isolation caused by COVID-19

The harm may be more severe among gay and bisexual men, who face disproportionate rates of poor mental health and sexual health outcomes. COVID-19 has exacerbated stress, anxiety and social isolation within our communities.

Photo by Jonas Ferlin from Pexels.com

Sixty-three percent of gay and bisexual men, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) reported only leaving their home for essentials amid the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting being in isolation has contributed to feelings of anxiety and loneliness, and dissatisfaction with their sex life.

This is according to a new UCLA-led study – “Associations Between Physical Distancing and Mental Health, Sexual Health and Technology Use Among Gay, Bisexual and Other Men Who Have Sex With Men During the COVID-19 Pandemic” by Ian W. Holloway, PhD, MPH, MSW; Alex Garner, BA; Diane Tan, MSPH; Ayako Miyashita Ochoa, JD; Glen Milo Santos, PhD, MPH; and Sean Howell, BS – that was published in the Journal of Homosexuality.

Due to COVID-19, physical distancing measures have been implemented globally. The researchers, nonetheless, recognize the LGBTQIA community – where the respondents for this study belong to – is historically already disproportionately affected by poor health outcomes. And so the COVID-19 restrictions may add to this.

For this study, 10,079 men in 20 countries were surveyed in April and May 2020 on Hornet, a social networking app, which also participated in the research.

Most of the participants were between the ages of 18 and 34 (55.5%), identified as gay (78.6%), were currently employed (67.7%) and had health care coverage (85.4%). In addition, most lived in a large urban center (69.8%) and were not in a relationship at the time of the survey (67.4%).

The study found:

  • Nearly two-thirds of participants (63%) reported only leaving their home for essentials
  • 37% more likely to feel anxious than those who haven’t stayed in
  • 36% more likely to feel lonely
  • 28% more likely to use text messaging to stay connected with others
  • 54% more likely to use video calls to connect with others
  • Risk reduction and telehealth opportunities may alleviate health challenges for GBMSM in the COVID-19 era

“We know that all people are affected by the isolation that can result from physical distancing,” said Holloway. But the concern is that “the harm may be more severe among gay and bisexual men, who face disproportionate rates of poor mental health and sexual health outcomes. COVID-19 has exacerbated stress, anxiety and social isolation within our communities.”

Social networking apps provide an opportunity for people around the world to connect with others, even cultivating a sense of community. As such, according to co-author Garner, “we must invest in interventions that include harm reduction approaches and leverage technology where possible to increase access to necessary health services and strengthen community connections.”

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