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LGBTQ Community Centers Vital to Mental Health Support, YSPH Finds

May 03, 2021
by Michael Greenwood

In surveys of 60 LGBTQ community centers across the United States, researchers at the Yale School of Public Health found that these venues provide critical frontline mental health services to a population that often faces stigma and a host of other challenges to their emotional well-being.

The research team, led by John Pachankis, Ph.D., the Susan Dwight Bliss Associate Professor of Public Health and director of Yale’s LGBTQ Mental Health Initiative, collaborated with CenterLink, a coordinating hub of LGBTQ community centers across the United States. The team interviewed the CEOs and directors of 60 LGBTQ community centers in what is believed to be one of the most comprehensive surveys to date on the role of these venues in promoting mental health outcomes. The findings are published in the journal Psychiatric Services. The study found that, despite oftentimes small budgets and limited mental health staff and resources, LGBTQ community centers are:

  • Ideal venues through which to implement LGBTQ-affirmative, evidence-based mental health treatments.
  • Especially appropriate sites for delivering low-cost, online and efficient treatment approaches to overcome barriers to wider implementation of needed mental health services to the LGBTQ community.
  • Appropriate venues for reaching LGBTQ people nationwide with effective LGBTQ-focused mental health care.

“Our findings suggest that LGBTQ community centers are vital to the mental health of this community and, furthermore, that their numbers should be expanded so that they can reach a larger portion of the population,” Pachankis said. “These centers are really in the frontline and have been for a long time.”

The study lays the groundwork for working with LGBTQ community centers nationwide to enhance their capacity to deliver evidence-based mental health care. Based on these results, Pachankis and his team are currently training about 120 mental health providers in nearly 60 LGBTQ community centers across 21 states to deliver LGBTQ-affirmative mental health care.

If the training is effective, next steps could include additional efforts to embed evidence-based LGBTQ-affirmative mental health care in LGBTQ community centers through even wider dissemination, thereby reaching LGBTQ people who might not otherwise be reached in general population clinics, Pachankis said.

LGBTQ populations represent one of the highest-risk groups for mental health problems like depression, anxiety, suicidality and substance abuse. LGBTQ people’s increased risk of these problems is understood to result from the combined stressors facing this population, including stigma and discrimination. LGBTQ people seek mental health treatment at higher rates than the general population at the same time that many are still not reached due to barriers to care, like financial barriers and worries about provider competence.

“We are excited about the potential to continue working with LGBTQ community centers to address and improve mental health outcomes in the LGBTQ community,” said Pachankis. “The need is great and community centers are one way that we can make real progress.”

Kirsty Clark, M.P.H., Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow, and Skyler Jackson, Ph.D., an associate research scientist, both of the Yale School of Public Health, were two of the study’s co-authors. They were joined by Kobe Pereira at the Columbia School of Public Health and Deborah Levine, director of LGBT Youth Link at CenterLink.

Submitted by Ivette Aquilino on May 03, 2021