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Mental Health Care for LGBTQ Youth Shows Minimal Progress in US Facilities: Study

According to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics and as reported by US News, an analysis of over 8,000 mental health facilities in the United States in 2020 revealed that 28% of them, or approximately 2,300, offered services designed explicitly for LGBTQ individuals.

This marked a slight increase from 25% of facilities offering LGBTQ-specific services in 2014. Lead study author, Kristen Choi from UCLA School of Nursing, emphasized that despite increased recognition of health disparities based on sexual and gender identity, there is still a lack of tailored and gender-affirmative services in the mental health care system.  

The study utilized data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s National Mental Health Services Survey, which includes responses from various public and private mental health treatment facilities nationwide. The study excluded youth accessing LGBTQ-specific services tied to primary care or school-based facilities.  

The availability of LGBTQ mental health services at youth-serving facilities was found to be higher in coastal states and lower in rural states. However, per capita, all states had fewer than ten youth-serving facilities with LGBTQ-specific services per 100,000 children. Connecticut had the highest % of mental health facilities offering LGBTQ-specific services at 48%, while South Dakota had the lowest percentage at 5%.  

The study also revealed that for-profit facilities were more likely to offer LGBTQ-specific services than nonprofit or public facilities. This raises concerns about how the cost of mental health care might limit access for LGBTQ youth. Previous research has shown higher levels of anxiety, depression, and suicide risk among LGBTQ youth compared to their heterosexual peers. 

A report by The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ crisis support organization, found that 84% of LGBTQ youth surveyed desired mental health counseling in the past year, but 54% of those who wanted counseling did not receive it. Financial limitations were cited as a reason for not receiving mental health care, particularly among Black, Latinx, Asian American, and low-income individuals. 

While the current study did not examine disparities in access based on socioeconomic status or race and ethnicity, Choi believes these areas warrant further investigation. She also emphasized the need to address the disparities between public and for-profit mental health services, as individuals from low-income backgrounds and people of color are more likely to access public mental health services.  

In conclusion, the study highlights the need for more responsive and inclusive mental health care services for LGBTQ youth in the United States, focusing on reducing barriers to access, addressing disparities, and providing tailored and gender-affirmative care.

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