A new, first-of-its-kind survey by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) investigated the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on 2SLGBTQ+ youth and young adults at risk of, and experiencing, homelessness in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and surrounding areas.
“I approached this study with the understanding that, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2SLGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness have been found to experience higher rates of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and suicidality, often resulting from identity-based discrimination, violence, and a lack of support,” study author Dr. Alex Abramovich told us. “I wanted to address these gaps and identify appropriate measures to support 2SLGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness and promote mental health during future waves of COVID-19 or future pandemics."
2SLGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness are disproportionately represented among the homeless youth population, making up to 40% of youth experiencing homelessness across Canada. Even though they are overrepresented, their health, housing and service needs are rarely prioritized. It has also been unclear what type of COVID-19 related challenges 2SLGBTQ+ homeless youth have been experiencing.
“I am leading a longitudinal mixed-methods study that involves a series of online surveys and virtual in-depth one-on-one interviews to better understand the various factors that impact health outcomes for 2SLGBTQ+ youth at-risk of, and experiencing, homelessness in the GTA and surrounding areas,” Dr. Abramovich told us. “Each youth participant completes three surveys over a six month period assessing a variety of variables, including mental health, housing situation, employment, relationships, access to health care, vaccine uptake and attitudes, alcohol and substance use, and trauma and violence.”
Researchers have also conducted virtual one-on-one interviews with Key Informants, including service providers and management from youth serving organizations to assess COVID-19 related institutional measures in housing programs and support services, and to identify challenges working with youth experiencing homelessness during the pandemic.
“Our results show that 2SLGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness have been significantly impacted in numerous ways since the COVID-19 pandemic, from higher rates of homelessness to increased anxiety, depression, substance use and a lack of access to health care and social support services,” Dr. Abramovich told us. “A high proportion of participants (81%) reported engaging in self-harm and approximately 36% of participants attempted suicide since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The vast majority of participants reported that they feel lonelier since the pandemic. The findings also suggest that access to affordable, safe and inclusive housing has been an ongoing challenge for 2SLGBTQ+ youth. Numerous participants reported that their housing situation had changed since the pandemic, for example approximately 13% of youth were living in a public space prior to the pandemic compared to approximately 33% since COVID-19.
"I was surprised by how significantly this group of youth has been impacted since the start of COVID-19,” Dr. Abramovich told us. “The high rates of self-harm and suicide attempts are quite alarming and should be a wake-up call to many people to immediately take-action and prioritize the physical and mental health needs of 2SLGBTQ+ youth at risk of, and experiencing, homelessness.”
The results highlight the need for key decision makers and public health officials to prioritize the health and social services needs of 2SLGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness. For example, Dr. Abramovich told us, 2SLGBTQ+ targeted, inclusive and trauma-informed mental health supports and initiatives is a much needed next step.
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com