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How One Therapist Improves Healthcare Access for the LGBTQ+ Community

Picture of Audie Vera, a licensed marriage and family therapist who primarily works with LGBTQ+ individuals.

The LGBTQ+ community regularly experiences discrimination, and unfortunately, this carries over into their healthcare. For those who do receive care, it could be more harmful than helpful. A 2022 survey found that 24% of LGBTQ+ persons reported that a provider has blamed them for their health problems

The survey also found that 16% of LGBTQ+ Americans have been denied or refused healthcare services. In comparison, only 7% of the non-LGBTQ+ population surveyed said they had experienced this. These statistics show that there is a very real healthcare disparity—and it’s likely the result of healthcare discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals. 

LGBTQ+ have unique healthcare needs

The LGBTQ+ community is at a higher risk for mental health issues. Here are a few examples of how LGBTQ youths’ health is negatively impacted

  • Nearly half of LGBTQ youth have considered suicide in the past year
  • The majority of these youth experience anxiety
  • Over half of those surveyed experienced symptoms of depression

And while the majority of these youth are interested in mental healthcare, of those that do seek care, only 40% receive care. One of the top reasons for this was that they were afraid they would not be taken seriously.

Why is mental health such an issue?

LGBTQ+ persons experience a host of microaggressions on a regular basis. Some also have (at best) strained relationships with family members. All these negative experiences cause stress (and stress can tear your health apart). 

To dig a bit deeper, we asked Audie Vera (they/them), a licensed marriage and family therapist who primarily works with LGBTQ+ individuals, for her perspective. “Being a sexual or gender minority person doesn’t cause health problems,” said Audie. “It’s the experience of minority stress that causes these health problems.”

Audie went on to explain that minority stressors include external stressors (like microaggressions) and internal stressors (like self-stigmas). 

So not only does experiencing others’ discrimination affect overall health, it also affects your perception of yourself. Which then contributes to health issues. It’s a vicious cycle—but it can be interrupted with affirming healthcare.

Telehealth improves healthcare options

If LGBTQ+ individuals have greater access to culturally-competent healthcare providers, they might be more likely to schedule an appointment when an issue arises. Which would increase their chances of being able to treat health issues. 

What’s even better? If they have access to healthcare providers who understand and can empathize with the issues they face. Someone like Audie

Audie is licensed in the state of California, where they see clients from all across the state. Many of their clients come to them after having negative healthcare experiences. Some of their clients have driven hours to see a provider that they know would accept and affirm them. 

Since Audie offers telehealth, those same clients can be hours away—only they get to cut their driving time to zero. And, because telehealth calls can be taken from patients’ homes, patients may feel more comfortable than they would in an office.

How you can support LGBTQ+ patients

As a provider, your patient’s health is your priority. Understanding how your actions and words affect others, including LGBTQ+ individuals, is important when thinking about improving patients’ overall health. 

Here’s a few ways you can support your LGBTQ+ patients:

  • Ask for and use their pronouns and chosen name
  • Encourage patients to invite chosen family members to join visits
  • Have a shareable list of LGBTQ-friendly therapists and health resources 
  • Remind patients that all health information is confidential
  • Take trainings to educate yourself 

This last one—educating yourself—is highly recommended. Going through training or courses can help you understand how to better serve and prevent escalating health issues. As Audie puts it, “without taking the time to learn what is needed for LGBTQ+ healthcare services, you risk engaging in microaggressions and that can reinforce minority stress—which develops into the healthcare disparities we see in LGBTQ+ population.”

Don’t know where to start learning? The National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center has free learning resources, created specifically for healthcare applications.