The paper, however, noted that these trends were more prevalent among younger generations as 80 per cent of the survey’s sample group – recruited through community organisations and online postings – were under the age of 36.
Those in the youngest age group, between 16 and 25, showed significantly higher levels of symptoms of depression and anxiety than their older counterparts, as did those hailing from lower income groups.
Chinese University assistant professor Suen Yiu-tung, one of the authors of the study, said the work provided a glimpse into how the city’s sexual minorities had been faring during an extraordinary time when social gatherings are discouraged and advice to stay home has inevitably led to a reduction in privacy, given Hong Kong’s typically cramped living environments.
The latter has become “a very challenging issue” for gay, lesbian and bisexual people, said Suen, who specialises in gender studies, adding that the lack of personal space had exposed them to sometimes-unsympathetic family members in a more prolonged manner.
“It is likely to be that either domestic violence against LGB people, especially LGB youth, may increase, or that LGB homelessness may result when such family conflict related to sexual orientation becomes unbearable,” Suen said.
He cautioned that the 4.2 per cent of respondents who spoke of family conflicts might even be an underestimate as it might not account for those who were not yet out of the closet, but still felt frustrated due to, for instance, unwelcoming views expressed by their parents on matters of sexuality. Meanwhile, the lack of contact with others in the LGBT community meant those less comfortable expressing themselves in public had been deprived of their only channel to do so, Suen added.
Suen, who is also working on a separate study focusing specifically on transgender individuals, called on the city to explore the possibility of setting up shelters specifically for LGBT people akin to those that house victims of domestic violence. While members of the LGBT community can access existing shelters through referrals, there are currently no facilities dedicated exclusively to the LGBT community.
Another co-author of the study, Randolph Chan Chun-ho, an assistant professor at Education University’s department of special education and counselling, called the latest findings “more pronounced” than those of a previous study he had done, saying that the uptick in adverse mental health symptoms demanded further attention, and possibly targeted intervention.
Social worker Hugo Ho Ming-hei, who specialises in LGBT issues, said the community had been hit hard not just by the pandemic, but by tensions arising from the past year’s anti-government protests, with the issues dividing the community in online group chats he followed.
Psychiatrist Gordon Wong Chun-bun said he had recently seen a few clients who remained closeted to their families, and who spoke of their worries surrounding staying at home. Others complained about not being able to see their friends.
Wong said clients across the board, regardless of their sexual orientation, had experienced deepened anxiety due to the recent social distancing measures, and encouraged people to stay in touch with friends through social media.