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Addressing loneliness among sexual minority men

Dr. Shayna Skakoon-Sparling

As loneliness and social isolation become increasingly pervasive, Dr. Shayna Skakoon-Sparling is focussing on how they affect gay, bisexual and queer men (GBQM).

A postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Trevor Hart’s HIV Prevention Lab, external link, Dr. Skakoon-Sparling has received a $99,800 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grant to examine the modern context of online and in-person sources of social support, and potential causal links with loneliness and well-being among sexual minority men. She has also received a $67,000 SSHRC Insight Development Grant to explore two training programs to develop loneliness coping skills for GBQM.

“This is an important population to focus on because, cross-culturally, men tend to report more loneliness and sexual minorities are also marginalized because of the stigma and prejudice they can experience from their family and peers,” said Dr. Skakoon-Sparling. “This makes sexual minority men doubly vulnerable to experiencing loneliness and feelings of social isolation.”

What motivates your research? What do you hope to achieve?

I’m really motivated to find ways that we can increase well-being, especially in marginalized groups. Loneliness is associated with poor physical health, more emotional distress, and even with increased sexual risk-taking and substance use, which can also negatively impact physical and mental health.

My goal is to examine how sexual minority men experience different kinds of loneliness, the strategies they use to cope, and the temporal associations of online and offline sources of social support with changes in the experience of minority stress and loneliness. 

Understanding more about the predictors of loneliness among vulnerable groups is important for developing better programs to help people cope more effectively with loneliness and to reduce their experience of loneliness overall.

“I love working with Dr. Trevor Hart and his lab. He’s been an incredibly supportive mentor and I’ve learned a lot of useful skills since I joined his lab.”

Dr. Shayna Skakoon-Sparling, postdoctoral fellow

How has your working relationship been with Dr. Trevor Hart? 

I love working with Dr. Hart and his lab. He’s been an incredibly supportive mentor and I’ve learned a lot of useful skills since I joined his lab as a postdoctoral fellow. Because Trevor already runs large-scale, federally and provincially funded research studies, this has created an ideal environment for me to develop my own program of work and he has been able to provide important guidance for my own grant applications. 

What advice do you have for graduate students?

Seek out opportunities that will help you develop new skills and grow as a researcher. Make sure you push yourself to make connections at conferences and don’t be afraid to cold-call potential mentors or principal investigators you’d like to work with. 

Trevor and I met at a conference years before I joined his lab and my conference connections have also afforded me other amazing opportunities, like teaching abroad in Amsterdam and becoming affiliate faculty with the Kinsey Institute in the U.S.