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Boredom, Mental Health & Homelessness

Meaningful Activity and Boredom in the Transition from Homelessness: Two Narratives

Carrie Anne MarshallDaniel Keogh-LimMichelle KoopSkye Barbic, & Rebecca Gewurtz

First published online July 24, 2020


Background: Few studies have examined boredom and meaningful activity during the transition from homeless to housed, and those that exist are retrospective.

Purpose: To prospectively examine how meaningful activities and boredom are experienced during the process of leaving homelessness.

Method: Using a mixed-methods case study design, we interviewed 13 homeless participants at baseline using a 92-item quantitative interview, followed by a semi-structured qualitative interview. Two participants were located six months later and were interviewed again using the same protocol. Quantitative data are presented descriptively. Qualitative data were analyzed using narrative analysis.

Findings: Qualitative data revealed two unique narratives of boredom and meaningful activity engagement in the transition from homeless to housed, with opportunities for engagement in meaningful activity limited largely by the social and housing environments in which both participants were situated. Quantitative data indicates that boredom and meaningful activity changed little before and after homelessness. At both baseline and follow-up, boredom scores for both participants were comparable to a sample of participants who were exposed to a “boredom” condition in an experimental study (Hunter, Dyer, Cribbie, & Eastwood, 2016).

Implications: Formerly homeless persons may struggle to engage in meaningful activity, and boredom may negatively affect mental well-being. Research with larger samples is needed.

Boredom and meaningful activity in adults experiencing homelessness: A mixed-methods study

Carrie Anne MarshallLisa DavidsonAndrea LiRebecca GewurtzLaurence RoySkye BarbicBonnie Kirsh, & Rosemary Lysaght

First published online April 15, 2019


Background: Boredom has been reported as a frequent problem experienced by homeless persons, with implications for mental and social well-being.

Purpose: This study aimed to explore the nature and impact of boredom in the lives of homeless and formerly homeless persons.

Method: A mixed-methods design was used to engage 13 participants in a structured 92-item quantitative interview using six standardized measures, followed by a semistructured qualitative interview. Correlational analyses were performed with the data compiled from the quantitative interviews, and grounded theory strategies were used to analyze our qualitative data. The two analyses were integrated at the stage of interpretation.

Findings: Boredom was described as a profound and pervasive experience for homeless persons, imposing deleterious impacts on mental well-being and driving substance use. A strong positive correlation between meaningful activity and mental well-being (rs = .767, p <. 01) and a strong negative correlation between boredom and belonging in one’s community (rs = –.771, p < .01) were identified.

Implications: Boredom is a critical topic of study for occupational therapy in the area of homelessness. Future research is needed to design and test interventions to optimize the mental well-being, participation, and social connectedness of this population.

Boredom and homelessness: A scoping review

Carrie Anne Marshall, Laurence Roy, Alyssa Becker, Melanie Nguyen, Skye Barbic, Carina Tjörnstrand, Rebecca Gewurtz & Sarah Wickett

Accepted 06 Mar 2019, Published online: 01 Apr 2019


Background: Emerging literature suggests that boredom is a frequent problem experienced by homeless persons that may influence their health and well-being. 

Purpose: The range and breadth of literature exploring boredom among homeless persons is unknown. We initiated this study to fill this gap in existing literature. 

Method: Using the method advanced by Arksey and O’Malley (2005), and furthered by Levac, Colquhoun and O’Brien (2010), we carried out a scoping review to identify the range and breadth of literature exploring boredom among homeless persons. Two independent raters screened titles and abstracts and evaluated full-text articles against a set of inclusion/exclusion criteria established by all authors. A descriptive analysis and inductive narrative synthesis were performed. 

Findings: Our search yielded 4536 citations following the removal of duplicates. A total of 17 articles were included in our descriptive analysis and narrative synthesis. Five themes emerged from the included studies: Boredom as a feature of the homeless experience; Coping with boredom; Impact of boredom; Environment as a determinant of boredom; and Interventions for boredom. Only two of the included articles focused on boredom as a central construct, with all others identifying boredom as an experience of homeless persons while investigating related phenomena. 

Implications: Boredom is a critical topic of study for occupational science, and specifically as it relates to disadvantaged populations. Future research exploring the specific impacts of boredom on homeless persons, and research identifying and evaluating interventions to effectively reduce boredom in this population are needed.

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