Inclusivity as part of Recovery

It was another packed room as the first Grand Rounds session for 2015 kicked off, with Megan Cameron presenting her findings on a research study conducted at Ontario Shores.

The topic, “Understanding the Experiences of Diverse Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities at Ontario Shores: Creating a positive space for Recovery” was identified based on the desire to better understand the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals at a mental health facility in a non-urban area.

Based on the rationale that individuals who identify as LGBTQ are more likely to report unmet mental health needs and high rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal acts and substance dependency, this study would inform possible opportunities for treatment. 

“The literature supports the idea that the increased risk is often linked to stigma and discrimination as LGBTQ individuals with a mental illness may feel compelled to hide as a way of protection from discrimination and to prevent negative experiences in mental health programs,” shares Megan Cameron. “This may have a significant impact on their treatment,” adds Cameron.

With the research findings expected to facilitate increased understanding, a chance to discuss the opportunities and barriers which may exist as well as to share recommendations for a more inclusive space, the study should impact the overall recovery journey.

“This study helps us to understand persons holistically and knowing how someone identifies is consistent with recovery philosophy here at Ontario Shores,” says Cameron.  The recovery model is based on empowerment, responsibility and meaning in life.  It provides a patient centered approach to care.

Based on the estimate that there are about 1.25 million people who self-identify as LGBTQ in Ontario, the study assumed that this same seven to ten percent was relevant to the patient and staff populations at Ontario Shores, which was seen as significant.

Conducted on both the patient and staff population, the study also sought feedback on issues of inclusivity and discrimination. “Experiences of inclusivity or discrimination have an impact on all of us – staff, volunteers, students, patients, families,” Cameron shares. 

The findings indicated that disclosure of sexual orientation and gender identity is more likely to occur when the environment is seen as safe and supportive.  “There is evidence of a supportive attitude Ontario Shores, though more can be done to make the environment more inclusive” says Cameron.

These suggestions include the creation of education to better identify risks of suicide in the LGBTQ community, such as gender non conformity, lack of familial support and substance abuse; to increase the knowledge of available resources and integration of these in health assessments.

“There were also suggestions to create policies that identify a commitment to inclusivity; ensuring forms include diversity and the provision of appropriate change rooms and washrooms,” adds Cameron.

Ontario Shores has begun this work, with a look at implementing policy changes in the near future as well as creating an LGBTQ task group as part of the Intimacy Recovery group.  “Discussion about LGBTQ has been included in the intimacy recovery education available to all staff,” shares Cameron.

While staff disclosure on sexual orientation and gender identity is seen as an area that could violate therapeutic alliance, it could also have a positive impact on recovery and provide opportunities for understanding and acceptance.  

Cameron agrees that “more research is needed to understand the oppression of sexually diverse people within mental health settings" and how to transform this.  This research is a great beginning to this work.