Did you know there are health disparities between members of LGBTQ+ communities and cisgender, heterosexual populations? Well, these disparities exist, and they’re not inconsequential. LGBTQ+ people face many unique health risks when it comes to both physical and mental health that cisgender, heterosexual people less often face. So, the first step to bridging this gap is awareness. Understanding the unique healthcare needs of LGBTQ+ communities is essential when it comes to providing everybody with the care they need and deserve.
LGBTQ+ Health Disparities
The first step in understanding the unique healthcare needs of LGBTQ+ communities is to look into the reasons behind the health disparities.
One major reason for these disparities is the lack of informed care and minority stress. Simply put, minority stress refers to discrimination and stigma that LGBTQ+ people may experience on a frequent basis because of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. This stress has a huge impact on mental health, which we’ll get into a little later.
Another reason for LGBTQ+ health disparities is discrimination in healthcare and a long history of anti-LGBTQ+ biases in medicine and healthcare. This marginalization has led to less research and studies being done with LGBTQ+ communities as well as providers who are not adequately informed about the unique needs of LGBTQ+ populations.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are also of concern for LGBTQ+ communities. Rates of STIs are partially due to a lack of sex education in LGBTQ+ relationships, but also a lack of access to healthcare for the members of LGBTQ+ communities.
One of the risks for LGBTQ+ people is HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus. According to the CDC, LGBTQ+ people make up a high rate of all HIV diagnoses. Additionally, a similar study suggests that LGBTQ+ people are also more likely to have HPV or human papilloma virus. These infections lead to a disproportionately higher risk of anal cancer for LGBTQ+ people compared to their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts.
It’s no secret that substance use and abuse are critical concerns for LGBTQ+ communities. According to statistics, LGBTQ+ people are more than twice as likely to use substances and have substance abuse than their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts.
Many people attribute these substance use disparities to minority stress but also to lack of support and even internalized homophobia. Given longstanding discrimination, nightlife has been a safe haven for LGBTQ+ people. However, the “culture” of LGBTQ+ communities has also led to norms of using substances as a primary means of socializing. As such, living in and being active in LGBTQ+ communities has been linked to higher substance use.
While often less discussed, eating disorders are also prevalent among LGBTQ+ people. The reasons and outcomes of these disparities can vary. Some LGBTQ+ people may feel pressured to meet social attractiveness standards, often resulting in unhealthy habits like restrictive diets and/or excessive exercise. On the other hand, some LGBTQ+ people may turn to food and start overeating as a coping mechanism for trauma and/or severe stress.
While it may be assumed that eating disorders are easier to treat compared to some conditions, the reality is quite the opposite. It takes a great deal of effort and commitment through therapy and personal work to properly support and overcome an eating disorder. However, with the right tools and support, individuals can become happier, more confident, and achieve lasting recovery.
Mental Health Conditions
While mental health is last on our list of unique healthcare needs of LGBTQ+ communities, it’s in no way the least important. In some ways, mental health problems can be way more crucial and, when left untreated, more concerning than physical conditions. According to statistics, LGBTQ+ people are much more prone to anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Moreover, research has shown that gender diverse people have higher levels of poorer mental health outcomes.
According to research, LGBTQ+ people are more likely than cisgender, heterosexual adults to have heart disease and cardiac conditions. In part, these disparities can be attributed to the fact that adults who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to smoke. Moreover, LGBTQ+ people also more likely to have poorly managed blood sugar, all of which increase the risk of developing heart disease.
Barriers to Healthcare for LGBTQ+ People
Many LGBTQ+ people refrain from seeking the healthcare they need due to insurance coverage issues and fears of prejudice. However, even LGBTQ+ people who don’t have trouble seeking help say it’s difficult to work with a provider who doesn’t understand their unique healthcare needs.
To get the best healthcare possible, you may need to talk about your LGBTQ+ identities to your healthcare provider. That’s why one of the most important steps you need to take is to research providers beforehand. Read reviews to find out the experiences of members of LGBTQ+ communities.
While healthcare might not be all that accessible in the state you currently live in, some states have better healthcare services for LGBTQ+ people (and life resources in general). While we’re not saying you should move to these states simply because of those accessible services, it is an added bonus if you were already considering moving. And if you do end up moving across the country, make sure you take it slow and hire movers to do the heavy lifting for you while you settle down with ease into your new home.
Searching for Providers
No matter the state, OutCare can help you find a provider who’s equipped to support and care for the special health needs of LGBTQ+ people. Understanding the health disparities is the first step to getting the proper care you deserve. That’s why OutCare also offers extensive training and on-demand education opportunities for providers and staff.
While every member of LGBTQ+ communities is diversely unique, there are some common traits we all share. And while it might not seem obvious at first, there are indeed unique healthcare needs of LGBTQ+ communities that cisgender, heterosexual people experience less often. Awareness of these disparities is just the first step. In order for things to get better and for the gaps to lessen, we need healthcare providers who understand these health disparities and can offer specialized treatment.