Abstract: WITHDRAWN: "Trying My Best": Sexual Minority Adolescents' Self-Care during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

WITHDRAWN: "Trying My Best": Sexual Minority Adolescents' Self-Care during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Friday, January 14, 2022
Independence BR F, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Rory P. O’Brien, MSW, MPH, PhD student, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background and Purpose. Sexual minority adolescents (SMA) face disproportionate rates of social, behavioral, and mental health challenges and are reportedly facing unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. The importance of peer relationships to adolescent development, in general, takes on even greater import for SMA wellbeing, as SMA may be contending with bullying, violence, and discrimination in family, school, and community settings. During the COVID-19 pandemic, research suggests that SMA are struggling with shelter in place orders, navigating family proximity and dynamics, and experiencing isolation from SMA specific supports. Given the challenges SMA are experiencing during the pandemic and the lack of research focusing on how SMA practice self-care and coping, this study explored self-care practices among SMA during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods. The present study used data from a COVID-19-focused survey with a large nationwide sample of SMA (N=770, M=17.48 years, SD=1.00) enrolled in an ongoing prospective study, the Adolescent Stress Experiences over Time Study (ASETS). Data collection occurred between May 13-31, 2020. An open-ended question with a text response box was included at the end of the survey asking youth “What have you been doing to care for yourself in these difficult times?” Data analysis was deductive and used a thematic analysis approach.

Results. Thematic analysis revealed five self-care practices among SMA: (1) relationships, (2) routines, (3) body and mind, (4) rest and reset, and (5) tuning out. SMA engaged in a variety of positive coping strategies; maintaining relationships with peers despite quarantine was highly endorsed and, in some cases, youth spoke of strengthening family ties. Other positive coping strategies included exercise, meditation, gardening, music, and art, and youth often explicitly noted how these many activities contribute to their positive wellbeing. However, some SMA also reported engaging in activities to distract or disengage from stressors, such as excessive sleeping, bingeing TV shows, and using alcohol and drugs.

Conclusions and Implications. These findings highlight the resiliency of SMA during the current pandemic, the importance of relationships, and the benefits of self-care to youth wellbeing. Although most SMA spoke of engaging in adaptive coping strategies, riskier self-care strategies such as excessive sleeping and alcohol consumption, which were endorsed by some youth in our study, may result in short-term benefits with long-term consequences. Findings can inform the efforts of providers seeking to emphasize and strengthen adaptive coping skills and to address riskier coping strategies like substance use. Study findings also point to the need for continuing research on youth resilience and self-care strategies.