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Research release: The impact of digital youth work at LGBTYS

With the early stages of the pandemic having a ‘pernicious’ effect on the mental wellbeing of young members of the LGBTI community, an innovative digital youth work service in Scotland has proven to be potentially life-saving, new research shows.

Pride & Pixels was developed by LGBT Youth Scotland in response to Covid-19 and the acute mental health and wellbeing implications of lockdown restrictions on young members of the LGBTI community.

Delivered via digital messaging platform Discord, particularly popular among young gamers, the service offered a safe and inclusive space for young LGBTI people to access vital information and to connect with friends and youth workers.

The Impact of LGBT Youth Scotland’s Digital Youth Work report, published by LGBT Youth Scotland, YouthLink Scotland, Edinburgh University and Northern Star, revealed that 86% of young people experienced reduced feelings of isolation, while 77% felt that their wellbeing had improved.

Overall, 9 out of 10 young people participating in Pride & Pixels felt an increased amount of connection, which was thought to have been crucial after previous studies suggested that lockdown could potentially trigger a mental health crisis for the young LGBTI community.

One young participant, aged 19, spoke of the potentially life-saving impact the service had on their mental health and wellbeing: “Without LGBT Youth Scotland, lockdown would have been horrible…Getting support from youth workers has helped a lot, my mental health would have been in a much worse state than it is now, and I am not sure I’d be safe or alive right now.”

LGBT Youth Scotland’s Head of Youth Work Nicola Booth said: “Our team has worked hard to ensure that LGBTI young people received consistent support during lockdown and beyond, and this research has really shown the value of our approach. For us this is just the first step and we are continuing this work to ensure that LGBTI young people get the support they need and want as Scotland recovers from the pandemic. Our Pride & Pixels community and learning hub will be a key service that will complement our face-to-face work when we can safely deliver that again in 2021."

Dr Amy Calder, Senior Policy & Research Officer at national youth agency YouthLink Scotland, commented: “The move to digital youth work in the aftermath of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions presented a huge challenge for the youth work sector, but research like this demonstrates just how vital, potentially life-saving, these online services can be.

“By providing a safe, inclusive space for young people to share their experiences and concerns, offering vital individual support, and allowing the young people to mould their own online community, youth workers at LGBT Youth Scotland really did provide a lifeline for young people across Scotland.

Kelly McInnes, director of Northern Star, added: "Despite the upheaval and instability caused by Coronavirus in 2020, youth workers from LGBT Youth Scotland continued to provide regular digital youth work opportunities and support in a safe and secure online space.  Participating in digital youth work gave young people routine and something to look forward to.  It enabled them to remain connected with youth workers and other young people, providing support, reducing isolation and improving wellbeing.

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