NYC Gays Twice as Depressed
For first time, city plan looks at LGBT mental health
By Dustin Fitzharris
By Dustin Fitzharris
Friday, November 02, 2007
Rates of depression among New York City’s LGBT community are nearly double that of its straight population, according to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOH). The findings were noted in the DOH’s 2008 Local Government Plan for Mental Health Services, released Oct. 22. Although the information confirms what LGBT mental health experts have known for years, this marks the first time that the city health department included the LGBT population in its plan.
“Before last year, the words ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ never appeared at all in [the Government Plan for Mental Health Services],” said Christian Huygen, Ph.D., executive director for Rainbow Heights Club in Brooklyn, the only government-funded support and advocacy program that caters to the mental-health issues of LGBT patients.
Past DOH plans focused on the mental hygiene of the elderly and children as well as on various sub-categories, such as mental retardation, developmental disabilities and substance abuse. Upon evaluating its own Community Health Survey—a random telephone survey of 10,000 adult residents of New York City conducted in 2006—the DOH confirmed the rates of depression in LGBT individuals was nearly double the rate of depression compared to non-LGBT individuals. LGBT people were also more likely to benefit from mental health care. “It’s very difficult to live as a second-class citizen,” Huygen said in response to the data. “We are in a minority that is still OK [for others] to bash on many different levels. There is also the fact that we can’t marry the person of our own choosing. So it’s not surprising that would take a toll on our mental and emotional health.”
Christopher Murray, a counselor at The LGBT Community Center in the West Village, agrees. “LGBT people are at a greater risk for negative health outcomes,” said Murray who was worked at The LGBT Center’s mental health program for the past four years. “There are different factors that lead to that—homophobia, being at risk for HIV, being kicked out of your community, and being a target for different kinds of violence—all of these things swirled together can lead to folks being a greater risk.” A 2006 report titled “Living on the Edge: Gay Men, Depression and Risk Taking” by the Medius Institute, a gay men’s health group in New York City, found that 17 percent of participants had active symptoms of depression—twice the general population. In addition, that report noted that depressed gay men were at increased risk of having unsafe sex and using drugs.
The DOH also acknowledged last month that gay patients face daunting challenges in getting proper care. The Local Government Plan stated: “Recent studies indicate that many mental heath providers’ attitudes toward LGBT consumers are not always constructive or positive. The result is that many LGBT consumers, having entered treatment, leave prematurely.”
“Often, even today, therapists and psychiatrists think of LGBT persons as a traumatized or underdeveloped version of a heterosexual person,” Huygen said. “When clients go to their care providers and talk about LGBT issues, the care provider assumes being LGBT is what the client wants changed.”Disclosure can also cause a problem with LGBT individuals who seek treatment. Murray explains: “If a person isn’t comfortable; then he or she won’t disclose. If a physician is not comfortable with gay people, he or she won’t ask.”
With the recent acknowledgement, the DOH will make more treatment options available. The Rainbow Heights Club, with a grant from the New York Community Trust, has developed P.R.I.D.E. training (Promote Respect for Individual Differences through Education). The program offers a range of training programs with the goal of working collaboratively to help other organizations—health professionals, human resource departments, administrators—to create a safe and welcoming environment for LGBT patients and staff. “One of our major goals with our P.R.I.D.E. training,” Huygen said, “is to make sure people get that competent care, which the Local Government Plan now said is so important for them to get, within mainstream psychiatric centers and hospitals.”
Huygen says nearly everyone who comes to Rainbow Heights Club has at one time been hospitalized. Every year, the Rainbow Heights keeps 90 percent of those individuals out of the hospital and, in return, saves New York taxpayers a lot of money.“It’s unfortunate that aspects of our identity that we celebrate actually come with challenges that put us at greater risk,” Murray said. “We have to admit it and make sure there are services to help support people.”
Getting those services to the community takes funding. In the past, this was a burden that threatened to take away the very programs that were in place for treatment. “The Rainbow Heights Club almost shut its doors a couple years ago because of a funding crisis,” Murray said. “So, having the Department of Heath say, ‘Yes there are these disparities’ is going to be directly related to having a successful program like Rainbow Heights staying in existence and continuing to help people.”