This fall, Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine will embark on a first of its kind student training problem designed to specifically educate our future medical professionals about the significant and particular mental health issues faced by America’s LGBT population.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced earlier this year that as part of its continued efforts to tackling the specific health problems LGBTs face, it had awarded a grant $556K to the Feinberg School of Medicine to embark on a first of its kind clinical psychology internship track focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health.
The program will allow participants a wide variety of training opportunities across the fields of health, research, education and services, all with the aim of equipping trainees so they are, as Northwestern describes, “culturally competent” and capable of delivering evidence-based mental healthcare.
In particular, interns will be given the opportunity to participate in rotations that include training to meet the needs of LGBT clients; working with gay and bisexual men who are dealing with HIV/AIDS and the specific mental health challenges that arise as a result; providing care to low income LGBTs who are dealing with serious mental health issues; and contributing to LGBT public health research and services.
At $556,000, the program might sound expensive. However, there is a wealth of evidence that demonstrates LGBTs taken as a group are particularly at risk of serious mental health issues that result from widespread discrimination and stigma. What is more, they are less likely to seek treatment partly because of the fear of facing discrimination from health professionals.
One issue that, thanks to relatively recent new stories, readily comes to mind is of course suicide and depression risk. Studies have shown depression, anxiety and suicide inclination to be around 2-3 times higher among LGB people than the general population, and significantly higher than even that among trans people. General levels of substance abuse as a result of depression and other factors are also significantly higher than that of the general population, and often without appropriate treatment models.
There are also specific issues within the LGBT bracket that need to be addressed, particularly among the smaller bisexual and transgeder populations.
For instance, bisexual youth are among the most likely to develop body dysmorphia and eating disorders, with out bisexual women at acute risk.
Bisexual women are also far more likely to engage in heavy substance abuse and have general levels of depression higher than most other populations. They are also at a significantly higher risk of experiencing rape than exclusively homosexual or heterosexual women, making them more likely to contract HIV as a result: all these add up to serious physical and mental health challenges that clinicians need specific training to address.
For the transgender population, used here as an umbrella term, mental health is of particular concern.
As touched on above, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that†41% of respondents reported having attempted suicide, this figure rising above the majority mark among trans women of color. To contrast, on average only 1.6% of the American population reports having attempted suicide.
Trans women are also much more likely to suffer depression and other mental health issues such as certain personality disorders and other behavioral disorders.
Of course, some religious conservatives are up in arms about this program, crowing that it is a “waste” of money. It is hardly a waste to cater for a population with particular needs, however, and as a first of its kind initiative, this training program’s significance stretches beyond Chicago to hopefully raise the expectations of care across the country.
“Through this historic collaboration between multiple departments at the University and the Center on Halsted [a local nonprofit dedicated to the LGBT community] we will be training future leaders in health research, education, and clinical care,” Brian Mustanski, PhD, associate professor of†medical social sciences, is quoted as saying.
“Health professionals with greater exposure to this patient population and formal education in LGBT psychology are more likely to take the time to learn a patientís sexual orientation and to provide competent care,”†Mustanski adds. “Unfortunately, available evidence suggests that too few professional psychologists receive formal training in this area.†Our goal is to train clinical psychologists who are prepared for careers as clinicians and clinical researchers who are competent to address the health inequities and disproportionalities in the LGBT population.”
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