“Loneliness – like all grief – is a queer experience,” said Richard Dowell the famous artist.

Globally, human kind is in the grip of loneliness. Particularly so in the queer community .But why is that exactly? To answer that question, loneliness itself has to be understood. It is best understood as “an emotional state where our social needs are not being met by our social interactions”. One could be surrounded by others and still feel lonely in some instances.

Global evidence indicates that queer individuals are more likely to experience loneliness compared to their heterosexual peers. This is because queer individuals tend to live lives that are more socially isolated and on the margins.

To understand this we must examine the particular challenges that members of the queer community encounter in their everyday lives.

Imagine living with a constant fear of rejection and alienation from family and friends, and sometimes even the queer community. Imagine every experience, every emotion is dismissed and marginalised. One struggles, one battles externally, but also within.

Additionally, the journey of building identity and self-acceptance in a herenormative world is even more isolating. As one goes on, they combat stigma and prejudice, even violence at times. Social isolation can be a part and parcel of the queer experience? Queer loneliness is the result of the psychological, relational, emotional, and social isolation that comes with being the “other”.

The queer community is forced to accept loneliness in their lives. This burden has a huge impact, not only on psychological and emotional health, but also physical health. It results in what experts term “minority stress”, which is the negative impact of living a stigmatised identity on the self where you are a minority.

Minority stress, in the context of the queer community, can lead to difficulties such as self-stigma, rejection sensitivity, and hiding one’s identity, all of which can impede the establishment and maintenance of healthy, meaningful relationships. Many people fear the reactions of those around them, and hide their true identity and self-isolate. This leads to difficulty in forming relationships within the queer community, both platonic and romantic. Those who are out and proud may also be afraid of violence and unacceptance, leading them to run away from forming meaningful relationships.

Many mental health issues can be rooted in loneliness. Depression, anxiety, stress, suicide, low self-esteem, poor decision-making, substance use, higher risk of cardiovascular disease, sleep problems, high blood pressure, have all been linked to loneliness.

As there is increasing awareness about the epidemic of loneliness among queer individuals, at a community level, the creation of safe spaces, online and offline and deeper social connection must be encouraged. Connection, community, and belonging are the three pillars that can help address this epidemic.

Programmes that bring people together, engage and address issues of mental health and build social connections are needed. There also needs to be a dialogue on such issues within queer communities. It’s important to allow individuals to voice concerns in fora and also build networks with organisations that work on queer mental health.

At an individual level, the first and foremost is self-care. Why? Because to combat loneliness, you needs to feel ready, and that readiness can only come from self-care and social connectedness.

You need to prioritise yourself, do what you need to do to care for your mental health before doing anything else.You also need to build meaningful relationships and friendships with those within the community. This may be going for a walk, keeping up with medicines, stretching, reading, or engaging in a spiritual practice.

Often in an increasingly social media driven world this is difficult and harder to do but it is important to try. Seek out spaces, events, and people who resonate and build a plan to increase social connectedness. Remember, everyone is lonely. Empathy for one’s self and others is key here. If this is not possible, it is critical to go through all of the complicated feelings that come with loneliness, either with a trusted companion or a therapist.

As lives become increasingly social media driven, engaging with affirmative queer media can also be helpful. As the world becomes more accepting, there is a wider range of affirmative queer media available for consumption. Seeing a wider community come to life, whether through videos, books, podcasts, magazines, movies, or television, is a terrific way to feel a part of it. Representation serves as a reminder that you are not alone on your journey.

When initially beginning to deal with loneliness, venturing out into visible, public and queer spaces is a difficult step. It can be scary, and fear can lead to self-isolation. Instead, it is good to start small. As a beginning step, look at online queer places that could offer more avenues for queer individuals to connect. This is an especially good alternative if one resides in an area without a huge or easily accessible queer community.

As one becomes more confident, find ways to meet other queer individuals, whether it is through community events, meetings or even online. It is important, of course, to always be safe. Loneliness is not a reason to risk physical, emotional or mental safety.

Whatever steps one takes to ease feeling lonely, remember that loneliness is a global epidemic. Queer people are fighting it everywhere. We need to take one step at a time and not give up. We may not always realise it, but we’re all in it together.

Samragni Dagupta, is a theatre artist, queer writer and public policy professional associated with the The Rahaat Project.