Wrestling with research methods

me v lion

Me verses making research decisions….

So this week I have been trying think and read about methods and methodologies, and as per usual when I start a new mini lit review I am confused.

Currently I am working with two research questions:

1. Why do LGBT+ young people have heightened rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviours when compared to their cisgender, heterosexual peers?

2. Does social connectedness, isolation, and broadly a sense of community influence those suicidal thoughts and behaviours, and if so how?

And a kind of whispered third question which goes something like this:

3. What kind of prevention and/or intervention work might help?

And I am really confused about how to investigate them best!

My Proposal

When I first wrote to my department proposing a way of investigating the then question which was something like: ‘how do offline and online communities influence LGBT+ young people’s mental health and wellbeing?’ I had a really clear idea of how I would do this. I would recruit young people via social media, I would get them in for individual interviews, I would then do 6 weeks of interactive diary-ing where they posted about their lives, their mental health, and their social interactions and I would post back so we could discuss it. Finally I would do a closing interview where we could chat about how the project had gone and see what their overview of their experience had been. Lovely. But now I’m not so sure… or rather now I have so many more questions.

Pile of academic books.

Question 1: who are the designated drivers?

The point of my research, or the important part to me, is that I am determined to hear from young LGBT+ people’s perspectives what matters to them, and what they think has been important in them developing (or perhaps not developing – we’ll come to that in a minute) suicidal thoughts and behaviours. I want to take a qualitative approach, by which I mean one where I discuss experiences with young people to try and understand suicidal thoughts and behaviours (STBs), rather than one where I for example try and quantify how many LGBT+ young people are experiencing STBs.

The point (for me) of this research is that by the end I want to have a better understanding of why young LGBT+ people experience high rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviours, and to know a bit better the kinds of things that could be done to support those young people. Basically the big aim is LGBT+ young people having a better time. It is awesome that currently this project is able to be a resource to work this out, and I don’t want to waste this opportunity as a researcher to get the best out of it. So to try and do this I think it would probably be useful to have had conversations with young LGBT+ people before I start attempting to answer these research questions to ask whether they align with the priorities that they, as young people have. Following on from this, I also think it would be useful to see what they feel would be useful sub-topics to discuss, how they would feel about answering them, and the kinds of methods that they think would be both enjoyable and productive to work with (no one wants to participate in a boring, sad project right?!).

As a result of all these thoughts, I have spent a lot of this week reading about ways of co-producing research (and oh my are there lots of ways of saying that: ‘participatory action research’, ‘public and partner involvement’, ‘participatory research’, ‘community-based participatory research’, and on and on and on). But I don’t want this to be intensely labour-some for the young people who might be involved. I want it to be about producing the best research possible for the community researched and not about young people having to sit with me in boring meetings.

Holding gender recognition placards

I support legal gender recognition for young people, not boring them to tears!

Question 2: and who should be involved?

So should all of the participants who intend to be involved in the final research be involved in the design of it? I know some projects have used smaller ‘youth reference groups’ where young people work as advisors to the project, and that these people are not always involved in the final research. But it might also be nice that everyone who is involved in the final research also got a say in the design of it, which leads me to a more sensitive point:

Should I only recruit LGBT+ young people who have experienced, or are currently experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviours or should I be talking to young LGBT+ people whether they have experienced STBs or not?

Perhaps those who have not had STBs might be able to discuss what they view have been particular protective factors. However I have to bear in mind what this range of experiences might mean for the dynamics of, for example, a meeting of a youth reference group or a focus group to gage direction. Perhaps dependent on experience they could be part of different groups? I have a lot of uncertainty.

Question 3: and would it be useful to talk to supporters and carers?

There are also a huge team out there of professional support workers (whether teachers, youth workers, key workers, mental health workers) and of personal communities who give support and care each day to young LGBT+ people with suicidal thoughts and behaviours. Of late I’ve begun to question whether these would also be useful people to have involved. In particular because professional support workers are likely to have been able to talk to more young people than I will be able over the course of a 3 year PhD project. Understanding from their perspective what they think might be key topics to touch upon might also be useful, as well as what kind of intervention and prevention work might be practical. But then I am worried that it might come across to young people involved in the project that I was trying to check, verify, or gain an authoritative voice on this, which would not be what I was trying to do, rather just getting another dimension.

Oh my messy brain!

I am woman hear me roar

I am woman hear me roar!

I’m not going to lie, this post started off as one of the entries into my research journal, but I figured why not share it – maybe people will have nice/useful things to say (thanks for everyone who has gotten in touch so far). I am sure that this is only the beginning of my methods quandaries, and in addition to this I know that I will have very necessary things like ethics panels and upgrade panels to satisfy before this ever becomes a reality. Not only this but there are further practicalities, like if I can pay LGBT+ young people for their labor  in these projects and how this might work, particularly if they are doing things like advising. For now I am continuing on designing this as an ideal project, and waiting to face up to those practicalities at a later date.

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