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Quality of life: Survey shows psychological world for LGBTQ2S+ folks in Shuswap not good

Counselling now available through Essie’s Place pilot project, family members wanted for survey
Pausing for a photo in the Salmon Arm office is Essie’s Place Executive Director Donovon Koch. Essie’s Place works to improve the quality of life for LGBTIQ2SA+ people in the Shuswap. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

What’s believed to be the first-ever survey of LGBTIQ2SA+ people in the Shuswap shows a relatively poor quality of life, particularly in the psychological realm.

Essie’s Place, which is working to improve that quality of life, recently completed a federally funded three-part survey using a World Health Organization survey tool. Essie’s Place has an office in Salmon Arm but reaches throughout the Shuswap. A baseline for its work was wanted but no data had been gathered, unlike information on heterosexuals.

The study measured four areas or ‘domains’: physical health, psychological, social relationships and environment.

Overall scores in all domains were low – all below 65, considerably lower than an average quality of life score of 70 or 80 for the general public.

More evident than anything else identified were mental health challenges in the Shuswap’s LGBTIQ2SA+ community, said Jeanne Rokosh, founder of Essie’s Place.

“The question with the lowest score and with the most responses, was related to people’s mental health,” she said.

The average score for the psychological domain was 46 out of 100. Next lowest was 57 out of 100 in the social relationships category.

Responses to the survey came from 88 people. Although the surveyors were hoping for closer to 200, the sample provided enough data to be taken seriously.

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The top service identified as being able to improve the quality of participants’ lives was mental health counselling services by their community, for their community.

The second was social and recreational events that are safe and ongoing. The third was trans care, which could mean help navigating the system if people are choosing to transition, or just looking at being able to access mental health supports.

Out of the data showing that participants wanted mental health supports from the community, Essie’s Place was able to partner with another agency, Our Landing Place, to provide an Affirming Therapy pilot program, explained Donovon Koch, executive director with Essie’s Place. Our Landing Place provides queer-centred therapy services.

The pilot project started in November and includes 100 hours of online counselling. So far nine people have signed up and they receive six to eight sessions each. That’s about 50 per cent full, so Koch is hoping Essie’s Place hears from more people as the funding dries up at the end of March. Participants can self-refer without a doctor. The program is also open to couples, families, anyone 12 and over.

Koch notes that in 2022, Our Landing Place was contracted by the government of Prince Edward Island to provide therapy to PEI residents, similar to what Essie’s Place is doing but on a larger scale.

Regarding trans care, Our Landing Place also has gender-affirming counsellors who can assess and certify a person as needing therapy or moving towards surgery if wanted.

Heather Yip, community and social presence specialist with Essie’s Place, noted it can be very difficult to find such services in the Shuswap.

Essie’s Place heard from parents and siblings who wanted to be involved when the quality of life survey was ongoing, but it didn’t have the funding capacity to include them. Since then a grant from the Canadian Institute for Health Research has been received. It’s hoped the survey will be up and running within a week. If you’re a family member of a LGBTIQ2SA+ person, you’re welcome to participate in the survey.

For more information on Essie’s Place, the services it provides throughout the Shuswap, the counselling pilot project, trans care or the siblings and family members survey, email, or call or text 647-547-1300.

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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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