MindMap: BC's LGBTQ2-affirming Mental Health Service Finder Tool

September 01, 2020

Dr. Travis Salway, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at SFU, is a researcher behind one of eight faculty-led projects CERi funded in January for the Community-Engaged Research Pilot Project.  The project is titled MindMap: BC’s LGBTQ2-affirming Mental Health Service Finder Tool.

Salway and Master of Public Health students James Young and Natasha Vitkin are working with the Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC) to understand how MindMap can integrate with existing programs at CBRC and can be implemented more effectively to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and Two-Spirit (LGBTQ/2S*/+) people in British Columbia access mental health services.

MindMap is a tool created to help LGBTQ/2S*/+ people seeking low-cost, low-barrier and identity-affirming mental health service providers. This tool was initiated in response to needs identified by members of The Roundtable, a networking space for people engaged in LGBTQ/2S*/+ mental health and substance use. This includes service providers, community organization staff and volunteers, researchers and others who connect to exchange ideas, raise awareness and find points of collaboration to address mental health needs of LGBTQ/2S*/+ people in British Columbia.

“Specifically, we wanted to have a single database and website where we could index mental health and substance use services, in particular those that are LGBTQ/2S*/+-affirming,” describes Salway. “These services live in a lot of places online and we wanted to put them in one place.”

‘Connecting the Dots’

Salway, whose background is in social work and epidemiology, has done research with LGBTQ/2S*/+ community throughout his career. As a post-doctoral fellow, he worked closely with the Clinical Prevention Services division at the BC Centre for Disease Control where he discovered that mental health issues such as depression and anxiety were often a concern for individuals accessing sexual health services and that many of them did not have the right support systems to address them.

“We learnt from a survey we were doing that about half of the clients coming into the STI clinic aren’t already attached to a family doctor or primary healthcare provider,” says Salway.

“We put two and two together and we felt like there was a real opportunity to ‘connect the dots’ and come up with tools that help support clinicians, in a lot of different settings, identify mental health concerns and refer [clients] to appropriate services. That’s how we came to develop MindMap.”

One of the motivating statistics for Salway’s work is that sexual minorities experience higher rates of mental health concerns and suicide compared to heterosexual individuals.

“I’m interested in research that helps us understand why that’s the case, but I’m even more interested in research that answers the question, ‘What do we do about it?’” says Salway.

Impact of COVID-19

Salway also describes how feelings of anxiety and increased social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic can disproportionately impact LGBTQ/2S*/+ people who are predisposed to those experiences because of ‘minority stress’.  

“Minority stress refers to the kinds of interactions we have that remind us that we are a minority and that that minority status is not without consequence,” says Salway.

These can be large events, like harassment, but more commonly involves the decision-making process sexual minority go through on when, whether and to whom they should disclose their sexual identity or the anxiety of how those who are aware of their sexuality might react.

These stressors add up over time and are believed to contribute to higher rates of anxiety. The added health anxiety and general uncertainty of the pandemic especially effects people with pre-existing vulnerabilities to anxiety. Additionally, social isolation caused by the physical isolation needed to mitigate the pandemic’s spread can affect LGBTQ/2S*/+ people more significantly since they are more likely to live alone and be less connected to their family of origin.

Recentring MindMap

In response, the MindMap research team are assessing what service providers and LGBTQ/2S*/+ community members need in a revamped version of the tool. The project’s pilot phase recently ended and the impact of the pandemic on the need for mental health services and their accessibly offer notable findings for future versions of MindMap. It was originally conceived as a geo-locating tool; however, the research team has modified this function of MindMap to address the large-scale shift to remote mental health service provisions.

“We’re starting to think about content we can develop and include in the next version of MindMap that helps people think through questions they want to ask before starting a relation with a new mental health provider and what the most important qualities to look for are to make sense of the various service options that are out there,” explains Salway.

Future steps for the project include exploring indigenous focused and cultural safety elements within the tool and incorporating equity filters to help LGBTQ/2S*/+ people of colour find mental health service providers who share a similar racialized identity.

* Two-Spirit is a way for those who are Indigenous to Turtle Island and who embody diverse or non-normative sexualities, genders, and gender expressions to organize as a community [Source: Harlan Pruden, 2019].

Additional Links & Resources

Roundtable: https://www.sfu.ca/fhs/lgbtq2roundtable.html

MindMap: http://mindmapbc.ca/

GROW + LIFT Research Checklist: https://www.cbrc.net/g_r_o_w_l_i_f_t

The Roundtable: Celebrating British Columbia’s LGBTQ/2S/+ Mental Health & Substance Use Networking Spacehttps://www.sfu.ca/fhs/news-events/news/2020/the-roundtable-celebrating-bc-lgbtq2s-mental-health-substance-use-networking-space.html

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