The University of Maryland Prevention Research Center (UMD-PRC) is working to improve mental health and health care for LGBTQ+ people with new funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Through a new cooperative agreement that supports a select group of national prevention research centers, the CDC is funding the UMD-PRC's research, service and training efforts with $3.75 million over five years (2019-2024).
"We are proud to be one of only 25 academic institutions to receive CDC funding for our Prevention Research Center," said Dr. Laurie Locascio, Vice President for Research at the University of Maryland. "I am hopeful about the difference that our University of Maryland research leaders can make in improving mental health for the underserved LGBTQ community across the United States."
This initiative brings together a diverse team of researchers from the University of Maryland, College Park's School of Public Health, along with a growing coalition of LGBTQ+, mental health and health care organizations and community partners.
"The University of Maryland is a recognized leader in supporting LGBTQ health and wellbeing," said Dr. Brad Boekeloo, a professor of behavioral and community health who is the director and principal investigator for the UMD Prevention Research Center. "In addition to our expertise in the School of Public Health, we have resources across the UMD campus, including the LGBT Equity Center, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the LGBTQ Studies Program and the College of Education to support us in our mission to address LGBTQ+ mental health disparities. We also have students, community partners and people from the communities we want to serve on our team. We're all working together to serve and lift up the most vulnerable LGBTQ people."
Beginning in 2009, the UMD Prevention Research Center focused on research to inform HIV prevention plans and intervention programs in Maryland and the Washington, DC region. It will continue to partner with health departments and community organizations on its mission, now expanded to prioritize LGBTQ+ mental health and health care.
"The LGBTQ community faces significant barriers to health equity, ranging from policies and practices that exclude rights and protections, to everyday experiences that are related to discrimination, stigma and violence. These things keep LGBTQ people from living healthier lives," said Dr. Jessica Fish, an assistant professor of family science and a core research scientist with the UMD-PRC. "So, the Prevention Research Center is dedicated to trying to elevate awareness, knowledge and competent training for mental health care providers so that it can be a pathway to wellness for this population."
Among the UMD-PRC's priorities, it will focus on implementing and evaluating a LGBTQ+ cultural competency training to equip mental health care providers with the sensitivity and knowledge needed to work with clients of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. The curriculum, which has been developed by Sean Lare and Michael Vigorito, two clinicians who are part of the PRC team, includes a combination of training and technical assistance. It has already been delivered in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia by the UMD-PRC with a grant from the District of Columbia Department of Health over the last three years.
"I've heard the need from clinicians of how they can better support their LGB and transgender clients and patients," said Sean Lare, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in serving LGBTQ+ individuals and their families. "My work with the PRC offers a unique opportunity to develop that training program piece that will increase that capacity for individual providers in their one-on-one work with people, but also to influence the culture of the agency or organization they are working within."
The UMD-PRC will assess the success of these trainings and how well mental health providers improved in their LGBTQ+ cultural sensitivity and competence through simulated online clinic sessions using actors. In addition to training mental health care providers and serving as a hub to connect providers, researchers, and LGBTQ+ individuals and allies, the UMD-PRC team also aims to provide the scientific evidence to inform health systems, policies and practices that support LGBTQ health nationwide.
Topics that PRC research will provide evidence to inform may include:
- The creation of health insurance policies that are more inclusive of LGBT individuals and families, and sensitive to their mental health needs
- Policies and legislation that would ban conversion therapy and other discriminatory pseudoscientific approaches
- Support for LGBTQ youth and parents in child welfare systems
- The creation of more gender inclusive facilities
- Increasing mental health care access for LGBTQ people in rural areas
- Preventing substance abuse in LGBTQ youth
UMD-PRC Director Brad Boekeloo is proud of the niche that the UMD Prevention Research Center is playing as one of the only academic research centers focused on the mental health and well-being of the LGBTQ community.
LGBTQ people face stigma, discrimination and violence in many settings, and many avoid medical care as a result. By increasing the availability of affirming and supportive mental health care for the community, Dr. Boekeloo and the UMD-PRC team hope that it may also increase the use of other health care services and create a pathway to overall wellness.