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Inspiring Success on the Road to Recovery

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Need to Focus on Individuals with Serious Mental Illness Includes the LGBT Community

By Brian Altman, Director, SAMHSA Division of Policy Innovation and Jennie Simpson, Public Health Analyst, SAMHSA Division Policy Innovation

The week of March 26-30 was National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Health Awareness Week.  SAMHSA provided the opportunity to highlight the needs of LGBT Americans with serious mental illness (SMI).

Data from SAMHSA’s 2015-2016 National Survey of Drug Use and Health provides insight on the prevalence of substance use and mental disorders among lesbian, gay and bisexual adults. The data indicate that LGBT adults have higher rates of mental illness when compared to all adults.

Nearly 40 percent of LGBT adults had a mental illness in the past year. Comparatively, just over 18 percent of all adults had a mental illness in the past year. Fourteen percent of LGBT adults had SMI compared to four percent of all adults who had SMI. Past year SMI ranged from over 16 percent for bisexual adults to almost 11 percent of lesbian or gay adults.

While these figures are cause for concern, LGBT adults fare better in some respects. Our research tells us that LGBT adults were more likely to have had mental health treatment in the last year than all adults were, by a margin of over 27 percent to over 14 percent. However, we can all agree having less than a third of any population receiving specialized care is not acceptable and we must do more.

SAMHSA’s Efforts and Resources 

SAMHSA is committed to ensuring that all Americans have access to and receive quality treatment for mental and substance use disorders. This includes efforts related to serious mental illness, as well as specific resources for LGBT individuals.

In 2017, SAMHSA convened the Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee and issued its first report to Congress in December 2017. The report, The Way Forward: Federal Action for a System That Works for All People Living with SMI and SED and Their Families and Caregivers, provided 45 recommendations to improve outcomes for people with SMI and serious emotional disturbances (SED). The recommendations support providing quality treatment and recovery support for everyone who is in need of care.

SAMHSA has developed resources and toolkits for health care and other social service providers serving people who are LGBT. These include A Practitioner’s Resource Guide: Helping Families to Support their LGBT Children, LGBT Training Curricula for Behavioral Health and Primary Care Practitioners, and Top Health Issues for LGBT Populations and Resource Kit. All of these resources can be used to better understand and provide appropriate treatment and support services to LGBT individuals with SMI.