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Homelessness and boredom – the overlooked, understudied link
When Mo was homeless and broke after losing his job and his apartment several years ago, among the many issues he struggled with was profound boredom.
The Vancouver resident says his life was so devoid of purpose and structure that he developed a coping tactic to make the time go by.
“I’d go to a Starbucks and ask for some hot water. Then I’d put in some cocoa powder they have at the milk and cream counter and mix it in. And I’d sit there for hours and hours.”
He put on the best clothes he had so people wouldn’t think he was on the street.
In 2016, Mo, now 25, was already struggling with anxiety and depression. Things really started to unravel in May that year when his beloved puppy died. Heartbroken, he tried to end his life. After recovering at St. Paul’s Hospital, then at Providence Health Care’s youth-support clinic Foundry Vancouver-Granville where he saw a counsellor, things started to turn around.
Today Mo (he prefers his last name not be used) is a youth peer researcher at Foundry, under the direction of Dr. Skye Barbic, the centre’s head scientist. He has his own place. Life is good.
Dr. Barbic, also a scientist at the Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences (CHÉOS), appreciates the effect that boredom had on Mo’s well-being. She is one of the authors of a new study examining boredom among homeless people and its impact on their mental health – an area that is often overlooked, she says.
The pilot study, published last month in the Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, examines how boredom arises from limited opportunities for homeless people to participate in meaningful activities. It concludes that the high rate of mental illness and traumatic brain injury among the homeless may put them at particular risk of boredom.