An important goal of SAMHSA prevention efforts is to reach underserved populations. Among these groups are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) individuals, who have been poorly represented in the overall data on behavioral health and substance abuse.
To raise broader awareness and to help grantees begin to meet the needs of these individuals, SAMHSA’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies’ Southeast Resource Team (RT) hosted the webinar, Understanding Health Disparities in LGBTQ Communities, the first in a three-part series, on December 7, 2011. The remaining webinars will be delivered in late February and March.
As prevention leaders participate in the webinars, they will learn where to find relevant data on these populations and how to collect their own. These efforts “will not only provide a solid base for understanding LGBTQ health concerns but also add to the overall body of public health knowledge,” says Iris Smith, coordinator for the Southeast RT.
Data on sexual and gender minorities is often absent or incomplete. LGBTQ individuals may not participate in health studies as fully as other populations because of society’s prejudice and misunderstanding about their sexual or gender orientation. Data collection may also be affected by prejudice or insensitivity on the part of researchers. To complicate matters further, existing data is often lumped together under the single LGBTQ banner, and fails to convey the diversity of individuals across racial, ethnic, age, geographic, and socioeconomic lines.
The data is unequal even within these five groups, as the first webinar explained. For example, a greater amount of research is available about adult gay men and lesbians, largely because the two groups have experience with organizing around health issues such as AIDS and breast cancer. Gaps persist in the research on adolescents and elders in these communities.
Studies also suggest that some LGBTQ individuals may be at higher risk for alcohol and drug use, suicidal thoughts, eating and anxiety disorders, and depression. In several studies, LGB adults 60+ years of age were more likely than heterosexuals of the same age to have experienced childhood sexual abuse and/or incidences of physical assault.
Many States, Tribes, and Jurisdictions have already taken steps to identify their “hidden” LGBTQ populations. Others are starting on that path. The webinar series enables providers to address a Strategic Prevention Framework goal of reducing behavioral health disparities – or differences in levels of care – among these traditionally underrepresented communities as compared with the overall population.
While the first webinar laid out existing data and pointed out gaps in research, the second and third webinars will address specific data gathering techniques, share resources, and offer case studies. This series is a pilot program, and will be introduced nationally at a later date.
For more information, contact Carlos Pavao: CPavao@edc.org