One in three homeless LGBTQ2S + youth in Toronto have attempted suicide since the start of the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit many marginalized communities hard. But a new study from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) examines how badly homeless LGBTQ2S + youth have been affected, and the results are striking.
The study, “Investigating the impacts of COVID-19 among LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness,” was published in the journal PLOS ONE last week and included 61 youth aged 14-29 who identify as LGBTQ2S + and are at risk or experiencing homelessness in the Greater Toronto Area.
The study found that more than a third of homeless LGBTQ2S + youth in Toronto have attempted suicide, and the number of LGBTQ2S + youth living in a public space, vehicle or vacant building has increased from 13% to 33 % since the start of the pandemic.
In their responses, the young people interviewed highlighted how badly things have turned out over the past year and a half.
âI heard from a friend, even in the cemetery, that they pitch tents in the cemetery and live there,â said one study participant. “It’s getting really out of hand.”
âI have had nervous breakdowns, I have had panic attacks, I have had anxiety attacks, I have had very severe depressive episodes,â said another.
Lead author of the study Alex Abramovich, an independent scientist at CAMH’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, says the findings show how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of young people queer and trans people.
âIt impacted people on so many different levels,â he says Extra. âFrom where they live, to the care they receive, to their mental health and their physical health.
The pandemic particularly affected young people’s access to health care, with 74% of study participants reporting delayed or limited access to health services, and 31% saying they were unable to access to any type of health care. This is due to the strain on health systems due to COVID-19, as well as the partial or complete shutdown of some services in the past year. For example, homeless youth without access to technology find it much more difficult to access virtual care compared to services like Zoom.
âI struggled to find places to go when the pandemic happened, a lot of opportunities and resources were closed for me,â said one participant.
Abramovich says it’s important to examine the unique barriers queer and trans youth face when it comes to accessing mental health supports, health care and housing.
“There are a lot of challenges around mental health and it’s obviously not because of the identity of people, it’s because of society, stigma, discrimination and family rejection,” he said. âI am not surprised that people’s mental health has been affected by the pandemic. But it’s still shocking.
The survey included a relatively small sample of Toronto-area youth, but Abramovich says his results likely reflect broader experiences since the start of the pandemic.
âThere are very similar challenges and barriers queer and trans people face when trying to access health care, when trying to access housingâ¦. across North America, âhe says. âAlthough obviously in a more remote and rural community it is different – not everyone has the same experience as someone who lives in a city like Toronto. “
Abramovich hopes the study and future research will highlight the need to proactively address the issues faced by LGBTQ2S + youth.
âIt’s always like something really bad has to happen for the government or key decision makers to take action and make changes, like they’re waiting for a tragedy,â he says. âWhile I think we need to start thinking about how we can prevent this tragedy from happening in the first place. “
The study is the first of several papers Abramovich and his team plan to produce from the three surveys they conducted with LGBTQ2S + youth in Toronto.