History is Made: LGBT Mental Health Issues Addressed in Local Government Plan

For the first time, New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has acknowledged the significant disparities Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people experience in mental health care relative to our heterosexual counterparts.

An open letter from Christian Huygen, Ph.D., Executive Director, Rainbow Heights Club

New York City , New York …October 22, 2007

Something historic happened in LGBT mental health in New York City this week.

 In its 2008 Local Government Plan for Mental Health Services, which was released today, The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) acknowledged for the first time that there are significant differences in the rates of several benchmark measures of mental health between LGBT and non LGBT persons in the City of New York .

 Citing its own recent Community Health Survey (CHS), DOHMH confirms almost double the rate of depression in LGBT persons over non LGBT persons as well as significantly higher rates of; “non specific psychological stress”, and “frequent mental distress”.  The literature also suggests that “LGBT people are more likely to attempt suicide and are also more likely to suffer from co-occurring disorders, like substance abuse”.

The plan also points out that “Overall, 23% of the LGBT community, (or roughly one in four LGBT people residing in NYC) report having a mental health disorder as opposed to only 14% of the heterosexual community”.  This is confirmed in the plan by the fact that “LGBT New Yorkers are significantly more likely to receive mental health treatment than are heterosexuals (58% versus 15%).”

Sadly, however, the DOHMH Local Plan also points out that LGBT persons are more likely to report that they did not always receive treatment when they needed it (27% versus 15%) and are more likely to leave treatment due to providers being “unresponsive to their unique concerns” and having “attitudes” that “are not always constructive or positive.”

The plan concludes that “differences in the experiences of people who are LGBT suggest that mental health service providers may need to assess their programs and treatment strategies to be sure they are supportive of people who are LGBT, and responsive to their individual need and experiences.

The ability of community providers to serve this population is particularly critical because of the relative dearth of programs dedicated to serving the LGBT community”.

As you know, Rainbow Heights Club is NYC’s only agency to focus solely on the support and advocacy needs of LGBT mental health consumers. I also serve as the Provider Co-Chair of the Citywide LGBT Committee of the New York City Federation for Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Alcoholism Services (The Committee), an advisory body to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. I credit this first-ever acknowledgement of the unique needs of the LGBT mental health community by DOHMH in its Local Government Plan to be the result of years of  hard work and advocacy of LGBT mental health consumers and their allies through The Committee.  I am thrilled and gratified that DOHMH has taken this first and very important step in providing all New Yorkers equal access to competent care by identifying LGBT mental health consumers as a population that is underserved relative to its need.  I look forward to working with our partners at DOHMH and LGBT mental health consumers to develop programmatic responses to these now acknowledged disparities in access to culturally competent and affirming mental health care.

I reached out to Bert Coffman, Consumer Co-Chair of The DOHMH Federation LGBT Committee, for his comments on this historic occasion. He pointed out the urgent need for a comprehensive, government funded response to the acute service need now identified in the Local Plan. “Governments speak with their checkbooks”, Bert said in his inimitable way. “Now that this long ignored and neglected need has finally been acknowledged, we know that DOHMH and our elected officials won’t allow LGBT mental health consumers to be treated as second class citizens any longer.”

Thank you, everybody, for all you’ve done to help move this discussion forward.

The full 2008 DOHMH Local Government Plan for Mental Health Services can be found by following this link.

Best regards,

Christian Huygen, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Rainbow Heights Club and Heights Hill Mental Health Service
South Beach Psychiatric Center Community Advisory Board, Inc.
25 Flatbush Avenue , Third Floor
Brooklyn , NY 11217