Research hopes to help queer youth

Finding out how to transition successfully into adulthood can be tough, that’s why one University of Calgary researcher is trying to help make it easier.

Assistant professor Andrew Estefan is looking for a few more students to study the support systems queer youth need to transition into adulthood. Estefan recently completed a study that looked at successful young queer students and what helped them get there. He is now expanding that information into the new project.

“They were at least two years into their degree, they felt like they had a sense of social fit and we were interested in understanding from them what it was that was working well for them, how they managed to traverse some of those turbulent times and really make things as successful as they could be,” said Estefan, who is still compiling data from the earlier study.

Estefan said many of the stories he heard tied closely into the international It Gets Better campaign which aims to help queer youth through adolescence by telling them circumstances do improve with time.

The campaign led Estefan to research the gap many youths find between emotional turmoil and waiting for things to get better, due to services and support networks that he saw lacking.

“When you’re seeking help and looking for assistance, health services aren’t always as supportive as they could be,” he said.

Estefan then decided to develop a second phase of the study looking at how health services might be able to manage their needs more appropriately.

Estefan partnered with Alberta health, who he hopes will reflect some of his future findings in their resources for young people facing thoughts of self-harm.

“Suicide is certainly one of the problems we know same-sex-attracted young people face. They’re around four times more likely to make a suicide attempt than their straight counterparts,” Estefan said.

U of C Qcentre coordinator Kris Schmidt said sometimes having resources isn’t enough.

“What I have found is that many people are simply unaware of their existence which is problematic because the most important thing is just accessibility,” said Schmidt. “Whether the resources are available or not, there is kind of a culture of silence on particular issues surrounding either gay youth or queer youth.”

Estefan echoed Schmidt’s sentiments that queer youth need to speak up. They are a group that, during difficult times, can engage in harmful behaviour such as self-harm, substance abuse and high-risk sex as a way of alleviating stress, he added.

Schmidt encourages youth to use Calgary’s distress centre 24-hour help line and the Out is Okay line, which is dedicated to gay youth and the issues surrounding coming out.

Several youth groups are also available in the city though Outlink Calgary, Miscellaneous Youth Network as well as the Qcentre and Queers on Campus at the U of C.

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