Left to right: Angel Kennedy, Natasha Vitkin, James Young

LGBTQ2 Communities and SFU Students Come Together to Improve Access to Mental Health Services

February 10, 2021

This blog post is authored by current and former SFU Masters of Public Health students James Young, Angel Kennedy and Natasha Vitkin. It is a reflection on their experience developing and evaluating MindMapBC, a project that received funding through CERi’s Community-Engaged Research Funding Program.

MindMapBC is a mental health service finder which helps people locate appropriate and accessible mental health services. Launched in late January 2021, it helps users to locate mental health services that are accessible, free or low-cost, and/or LGBTQ2+-affirming. 

What were your roles in working on MindMapBC?

  • James Young (JY): My primary role centred around the qualitative interviews we conducted with various stakeholders (e.g. counsellors, sexual health nurses) in order to evaluate MindMapBC. I helped develop our interview guides, conduct interviews and analyze the interview transcripts using NVivo.
  • Angel Kennedy (AK): I started on this project as a practicum student focused on the evaluation of MindMapBC, which included interviewing stakeholders, creating a codebook and analyzing the data. With CERi funding in the Fall, I worked with an advisory group to separate the LGBTQ2-affirming filter into Two-Spirit-, Trans- and LGBQ-affirming filters and compile a more systematic and evidence-informed way of assessing whether services are affirming. I also surveyed services in MindMapBC to identify what kind of educational resources should be posted in MindMapBC to help services be more affirming. 
  • Natasha Vitkin (NV): My work began on the backend of the database cleaning and accuracy-checking the entries. When we started evaluating the site, I worked with James and Angel to conduct and analyze stakeholder interviews. I also worked with my team at Designs that Cell to design the new illustrations.

Why do you think MindMapBC is important?

  • JY: For LGBTQ2 people, finding mental health care that is affirming of their sexual orientations and gender identities can be very challenging. Additional barriers such as cost, location/accessibility and the requirement of a referral from a healthcare provider can further deter people from seeking care. I think MindMap is important because it aims to include services that address one or more of these barriers to seeking mental health care.

How did working with community and service providers to gather feedback improve MindMapBC? 

  • NV: The interviews highlighted how to make the site more inclusive. In my first interview, the interviewee noted that using the phrase "couples counselling" was not inclusive of people in polyamorous relationships. Insights like this enabled our team to fix these blind spots to ensure that MindMapBC was inclusive for everyone.
  • AK: The interviews solidified that there is a need among the community for a systematic way of assessing if services are Two-Spirit-, Trans- and/or LGBQ-affirming and defining what this means. This is especially important given the risk of experiencing stigma that LGBTQ/2S/+ individuals face when accessing health services. 
  • JY: One key takeaway from our interviews was learning from providers how they would integrate MindMapBC into their practice. We interviewed a diverse array of healthcare providers that served clients with unique and varying needs. This practical insight allowed us to better fine-tune the service so that it would be more accessible for end-users.

How do the illustrations in MindMapBC make a diverse group of users feel included? 

  • NV: I wanted everyone to be able to see themselves in the illustrations. Everyone can relate to speaking via videoconference, so even if you don’t have dark hair like the person in the image, you still connect with talking to somebody on a screen. However, I also wanted to emphasize that MindMapBC is for everyone, and illustrated people to show differences in gender, ethnicity, religion and ability. It’s a cliché, but representation matters, especially for groups who have historically been excluded from positions of power. 

Were there any unanticipated benefits of MindMapBC?

  • AK: Providers told us they could envision using it to connect with other providers who are also working with LGBTQ/2S/+ folks, and gain support by creating a community of practice, which was really nice to hear.
  • NV: As we were working on MindMapBC during COVID-19, our team also focused on identifying remote services to help people staying at home. The switch to remote services has actually improved service accessibility for populations outside of the Lower Mainland.

As a queer person, I have experienced the profound difference that receiving queer-affirming mental health care makes, so my favourite part of developing MindMapBC was that I could clearly see how it would positively impact the LGBTQ2S+ community.

What was your favourite part of working on the project?

  • JY: I have worked and volunteered in various queer health, mental health, and substance use spaces over the past several years, but I have never worked on a project that intentionally situated itself at the intersection of all three. It has been such an amazing opportunity to be able to do so, and it’s something that I never would have thought I’d have the confidence or opportunity to do when I was younger.
  • NV: As a queer person, I have experienced the profound difference that receiving queer-affirming mental health care makes, so my favourite part of developing MindMapBC was that I could clearly see how it would positively impact the LGBTQ2S+ community. I’m very grateful to have contributed to a project that will improve the lives of so many other queer people.
  • AK: I have worked and always been interested in queer mental health and feel very driven towards reducing mental health inequities. So getting to work on a project that took an upstream and community-centred approach felt very impactful and gave me a lot of hope for the future.

The students worked in collaboration with SFU Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Health Science Travis Salway and Sarah Watt, Research Coordinator at the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Learn more: MindMapBC.ca

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