Can specialized sexual health clinics address unmet mental health needs of sexual minorities?

Gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) Canadians are at higher risk of depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol use problems and suicide attempts, but there are few places where these mental health needs can be met in a way that is mindful of the judgment GLB people may fear on the basis of their sexuality. Many sexual health clinics already serve as GLB-sensitive points of care for diagnosing and treating sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. These clinics and their nursing staff could be supported in routinely offering assessment, referral, and counseling for mental health concerns; however, the extent to which this is needed and desired has not yet been explored. Dr. Salway will use a combination of data sources and methods to characterize the potential for such interventions.

This study will answer three questions:

  1. What are the unmet mental health service needs of GLB clients of sexual health clinics?
  2. How can these needs potentially be met through the sexual health clinics?
  3. What is the appeal of new approaches to meeting mental health needs through sexual health clinics?

Dr. Salway will use a large, linked data set to estimate how many sexual health clinic clients currently access mental health-related services from other hospitals or clinics. Interviews will be conducted with nurses and clients, and a survey will be administered at three sexual health clinics in Vancouver that predominantly serve GLB populations. 

Dr. Salway’s research will be conducted in collaboration with nurses, clinic managers, and policy-makers to ensure that results are applied to existing services. Through these collaborations, findings will be translated into clinical guidelines, training programs for clinicians, and policy recommendations. Ultimately, this study will provide evidence for promising strategies that will not only improve health care for sexual health clinic clients, but also contribute to reductions in mental health disparities that continue to affect GLB Canadians today.