Some groups of youth in Ontario tend to have higher rates of risk-taking behaviours than others. They also have poorer health. Differences in health outcomes and risk-taking behaviours that are avoidable, unfair and systematically related to social inequality and disadvantage are known as health inequities.
When it comes to young people’s health, most of the differences we see are because some groups of youth have more access to the determinants of health and protective factors, while others have less. Stigma and discrimination play an important role in creating these differences in access to the factors that help young people be happy, healthy, and safe.
There are many forms of stigma and discrimination. Moreover, many people may face multiple layers of stigma and discrimination, based on factors such as gender, ethnic or racial background, sexual orientation, gender identity, newcomer status, physical ability, and mental health status or based on the neighborhood they live in.
Youth who belong to groups that face stigma and discrimination tend to have more risk factors and less access to protective factors. This can profoundly affect their resilience, health, well-being, and development. Stigma and discrimination make it hard for young people to get the resources they need such as housing, food, and access to education. They may face differential treatment in accessing health or social services. They may not feel that they are valued and respected or that they can participate fully in their communities. These youth are also more likely to be subjected to violence or live in environments where there are high rates of violence
Here are some examples of the stigma and discrimination faced by some groups of youth in Ontario. In reality, the impact of stigma and discrimination on health inequities is more complex because there can be overlapping forms of stigma.
- Many newcomer parents find it hard to secure a job that recognizes their training and experience or even a job that provides a living wage. As a result, these families may be forced to live in neighbourhoods with high levels of poverty and violence. They may have trouble becoming engaged in their communities.
- Schools can be hostile places for students who identify as LGBTQ or who are presumed by their peers to be so. These students are often exposed to homophobia and transphobia each day—from the put-down of “That’s so gay” to harassment and bullying.
- Many rural communities have fewer financial resources than their urban counterparts. This can make it hard to create youth-friendly communities. Youth may lack chances to take part in projects and extracurricular activities that interest them. They may also lack access youth-specific programs and services.
- Schools on Aboriginal reserves are underfunded compared with schools in other communities. Many Aboriginal children and youth live in communities with poorly built and unsafe schools, with not enough books and poorly trained teachers. Some communities have no school at all.
Schools and communities can create supportive environments that promote social inclusion and reduce health inequities. Here are some ideas to help you do this:
- Use formal measures such as policies, programs, and guidelines to promote inclusion, remove systemic barriers, facilitate the engagement of all young people.
- Encourage open dialogue about ways that people can individually and collective contribute to safe, inclusive, and supportive environments.
- Make classrooms and community spaces safe and welcoming. Promote respect and acceptance. Ensure discussions and activities are responsive and respectful of the diversity among students. Challenge stereotypes, name-calling, bullying, social exclusion, and negative assumptions. Set a positive tone and model and respectful communication. Work with youth to establish ground rules that identify behavioural expectations for safe and productive conversations.
- Create clubs and groups that actively promote respect and acceptance within the school and community.
- Ensure easy access to youth-friendly community services, further information, and health services that can help students take care of their health and well-being.
- Acknowledge and foster the personal strength and resiliency displayed by young people who face stigma and discrimination.