RICHMOND, Va. -- The feeling of isolation was common throughout the pandemic, especially for those who are part of marginalized communities. For many who identify as LGBTQ+, COVID-19 brought unique challenges, specifically to their mental health.
Josue Turrubiates doesn't feel much different than everybody else. He describes himself as a "comic book nerd who likes politics."
But there is one difference Josue proudly recognizes.
"I came out when I was 14-years-old in high school," Josue recalled.
The now 25-year-old belongs to the LGBTQ+ community, a "chosen family" as he calls it. They're the people who accept and love him unconditionally.
"You just let down all those walls that you have to build for society," he said.
But that safe space was stripped away from him when COVID-19 forced people to isolate.
"All these people where I felt really comfortable being myself. It's just like, I don't have that connection anymore," Josue said. "I'm back to feeling like my 17-year-old, little closeted gay person in my bedroom."
With a support system no longer in reach, he said his mental health started to slip.
"It's just like, what do I do now? It just causes so much of that self-doubt, anxiety, and depression," he said.
Dr. Milo Wilson, who specializes in counseling for LGBTQ+ individuals in the Richmond area, said queer and trans people have experienced heightened mental health challenges over the past fifteen months.
"That stress that we already see that is unique to LGBTQ plus individuals is magnified," Dr. Wilson said.
He explained that LGBTQ+ people already carry extra trauma called minority stress.
"Because of having to not be our authentic selves, sometimes with our families, experiencing that family rejection," Dr. Wilson said.
Then, add a pandemic that has disproportionately impacted LGBTQ+ folks, and it's no wonder that the coronavirus crushed the spirit of the community.
But as life slowly returns to the way it once was, Dr. Wilson encourages people to work through those feelings to bounce back.
"You have to know your foundation for emotional and mental well-being," he said.
Dr. Wilson added that can come in the form of a daily routine, watching what you eat, exercise and most importantly, reconnecting with "chosen family."
"We know how to build community in creative ways," Dr. Wilson said. "And we know how to develop a sense of pride in ourselves."
It's something Josue definitely knows a thing or two about.
"I'm so ready to see a drag show," Josue said. "I'm ready to be on the dance floor, listening to Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande and just dancing my heart out without worrying about anything."
Dr. Wilson provided the following resources with support tailored to the LGBTQ+ community: