Apr 162014
 

One of the premier medical journals, the New England Journal of Medicine, regularly has perspective/opinion pieces. For a pre-med like me, they can be some of the most valuable pages in the journal — they can be windows into medical practice, public policy and the study and practice of medicine. I read them regularly, since my wife got me a subscription to NEJM. Most aren’t related to gender and sexual minority health, so I haven’t addressed them here much. But in the April 10th edition of NEJM, a treasure! Gilbert Gonzales did a good summary of the intersection between same-sex marriage and health.

Many health journals, including NEJM, tend to live behind a pay wall. This particular article, thankfully, is not. But in the interests of public knowledge and discourse, I wanted to summarize some of the interesting points in this article. A heads up: this is a distinctly United States-focused article.

  • Despite recent advances, roughly 60% of the US population lives in a state that prohibits same-sex marriage
  • There are significant health disparities between LGBT and heterosexual/cisgender people, as shown by the 2011 Institute of Medicine report on LGBT health (which I summarized in 3 parts at the time).
  • Discriminatory environments lead to poorer health outcomes. Example: LGBT people in states that ban same-sex marriage have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and alcohol use than straight/cis people in the same states. By the same token, states where same-sex marriage (e.g., MA and CA) was legalized show a drop in mental health care visits for some GLBT people (e.g., gay men).
  • Legalizing same-sex marriage improves access to health insurance for both same-sex spouses and children of same-sex parents.
  • The Affordable Care Act prohibits insurance companies from denying health insurance coverage because of sexual orientation, transgender identity, or pre-existing conditions like HIV.
  • The recent decision on DOMA (United States v Windsor) means couples in a same-sex marriage get taxed like other married couples. This lowers the tax burden of health care costs and health insurance.
  • Health benefits of same-sex marriage should be included in discussion of marriage equality.

All good things to point out, and good to see in such a mainstream medical journal.

We’re lucky enough that the NEJM has decided to have this article be open access. So if you can, read it to form your own opinions!

And as always…  Stay healthy, stay safe, and have fun!

May 192013
 

I got back from the 2013 National Transgender Health Summit (NTHS) in Oakland last night. What a fabulous conference! I’m still processing a lot of my notes, but wanted to give a quick report on it before I flood the blog with new resources.

First some basic information. NTHS is cosponsored by UCSF’s Center of Excellence for Transgender Health and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. It’s designed for medical professionals, mental health professionals, advocates, health administrators, students, and others. I can’t speak for previous years, but this year it was a two-day event. Sessions were broken into various tracks: research, medical, mental health, policy, and special topics. And boy, did we cover quite a lot! And, as always, I wanted to be in five different places all at once.

Aside from the official session topics, though, there were some themes that stood out to me…

  • There’s a very strong need for cross-cultural trans care. Trans care, like lots of medicine, has been focused on white people. I admit to being guilty of this too! I don’t know how being trans is handled in, for example, an urban latino/a community, and I don’t know how I can best respond to those needs as a future health care provider. I met some folks who were involved in the Trans People of Color Coalition, and I hope to not only educate myself but bring more awareness to my posts here.
  • There’s a disconnect in some areas between cultural knowledge about medical treatments in trans communities and medical knowledge. I want to give a shout out to Trystan Cotten, author of Hung Jury, for bringing attention to this within trans male communities. One of his examples? Something new for me, certainly: there are anecdotal reports that some trans men can have penetrative sex after metoidioplasty. Sounds like there needs to be a community-level conversation.
  • It sounds so far like the ICD-11 system will handle both the transgender/transsexual diagnoses and the paraphilia diagnoses much better than the previous ICDs and certainly better than the DSM system. More details when the preliminary criteria are out for comment.
  • Insurance coverages for trans-related care may improve with the Affordable Care Act. Again, more on this as information becomes more available.
  • There is a lot of research going on! Yay! I’ll try to link to some of the studies I heard about in a follow up.

Plus so much more! It was really exciting. I hope to post again with more information, links to lots of new resources and shout outs for on-going studies and organizations.

May 262011
 

Welcome back! This part of the IOM report covers adults aged 20 to 60. There are more data available for adults than adolescents, so this part’s broken up a bit different from the last. As a reminder: GLBT (or LGBT – same meaning, different order) stands for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. I frequently do use GLB separate from T. That is intentional, not a typo. Also, the full report is available here – you can read it online for free.

The best studied aspects of health:

  • Mood/anxiety disorders: There are conflicting data here, but the consensus so far is that GLB people have higher rates of these problems. There’s almost no research on transgender people, but one preliminary study found that around half of transgender people have depression. Yikes!
  • Suicide/Suicidal ideation: LGBT people as a whole appear to be at higher risk. Bisexuals and transgender people appear to be at an even higher risk. Risk also seems to vary by age, sex, race/ethnicity, and how far out of the closet a person is.
  • Cancer: Gay and bisexual men are definitely at a higher risk for anal cancer than heterosexual men. This risk is linked to having anal HPV, which can be spread by anal sex.

Somewhat studied:

  • Eating disorders: May be more common for GLB people than heterosexuals, but we’re not sure. No data on transgender people.
  • Sexual: Gay/bisexual men don’t appear to be at an elevated risk for erectile dysfunction. Transgender people who have had sexual reassignment surgery may be at a higher risk for sexual difficulties…not entirely surprising given the potential for nerve damage from any surgery.
  • Cancer and obesity: Lesbian/bisexual women may be at a higher risk for breast cancer than heterosexual women.
  • Hormone replacement therapy -may- affect cardiovascular health, but it’s unknown.

Essentially not studied: Reproductive health (including the effects of hormone therapy on fertility for transpeople), cancer (especially in transgender patients), and cardiovascular health

Risk factors:

  • Stigma/Discrimination/Victimization: As we all know, LGBT people face these problems all the time.  Stigma is strongly associated with psychological distress. Bisexuals have reported facing discrimination from both the straight and gay communities. One study of transgender people found that 56% had faced verbal harassment, 37% had faced employment discrimination, 19% had faced physical violence.
  • Violence: LGBT people are at an elevated risk for suffering violence. LGBT people do experience intimate partner violence, but the statistics and relative risk are unknown.
  • Substance Use: LGBT people may be more likely to use substances, especially tobacco (read my previous post on this).
  • Childhood abuse: LGB may have higher rates of childhood abuse.

Potential protective factors (LGB): supportive environments, marriage, positive LGB identity, good surgical/hormonal outcomes (T)

As for access/quality of health care? Er…it’s complicated. GLB people get less regular screening (like pap smears and basic physical exams) than heterosexuals and use the emergency room more often. Two biggest obstacles to getting good health care?: problems with the health care providers. This could be perceived discrimination (thinking that someone is acting in a discriminatory way, whether that person is or not), or simply lack of knowledge on the part of the provider. One study found only 20% of physicians had received education about LGBT health issues. That’s only  one in five! I will note that this is improving – medical schools, depending on the school and its location, are starting to teach LGBT cultural competency more than they used to.

Lack of insurance is another barrier, and it especially affects transgender people. The services they need, like hormone therapy and sexual reassignment surgery aren’t covered by insurance. In addition, one study found that a third of transgender people had been treated ill by a physician.

Next time: Older Adults and conclusions…

Jan 192011
 

The Journal of Homosexuality and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention have worked together to produce a report on suicides in LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trangender or transsexual) individuals. The report is a meta analysis, which means that it reviews and summarizes original research. It’s well known that LGBT people are at a higher risk for suicide attempts than heterosexual or cisgendered people.

LGB risk factors:

  • Suicidal ideation does not appear to be a stable predictor of suicide attempts.
  • Gay and bisexual men are at higher risk than lesbian and bisexual women.
  • Not enough is known about age or race/ethnicity to clearly state how these affect risk.
  • LGB people, as a whole, have higher rates of mental illnesses, especially mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse, than heterosexual people. Mental disorders are a huge risk factor for suicide. Non-heterosexual men more frequently have depression and panic disorders than heterosexual men; non-heterosexual women are dependent on substances more frequently than heterosexual women. Insecurity in sexual orientation increases the chances of mental illness.
  • Stress relating to homophobia increases suicide and mental illness risk. The report identifies two kinds of discrimination: individual (e.g., rejection, harassment, bullying) and institutional (e.g., no legal rights or protections). Both increase the risk for mental illness. Institutional discrimination can also lead to lack of health care for mental illness, which increases the risk of suicide.
  • HIV/AIDS, as a significant stressor, also increases the risk of both mental illness and suicide.

Factors that reduce the suicide risk for LGB people are not yet well known. For youth, family and other adult support and safe schools appear to be important; for adults, connection to the LGB community and positive sexual identity.

Information about transgender suicide risk is likewise unclear. It’s known that transgender people are at a higher risk for depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Rejection by parents and discrimination appear to be the most well-known risk factors. Transgender people also have very high rates of job discrimination (e.g., harassment, privacy invasion, use of the wrong gender pronouns, not being hired or promoted) and unemployment, and low levels of health insurance through their employers.

There is a lot of information missing here, clearly. Research needs to shift, and the authors acknowledge and address this. Specifically, the right questions (e.g., asking for gender identity on large-scale population studies) and the right studies (e.g., looking at the differences between specific subgroups) need to be done.

There is no information about how well suicide prevention strategies work with LGBT people.

For me, these other aspects within the report stood out:

  • LGBT people need access to high quality, evidence-based psychiatric care tailored to their needs that are accessible and affordable. The report notes that there were high levels of dissatisfaction with mental health services in the 1990s. I doubt that’s changed. And while it’s known that LGBT people acces more mental health services than the general population, the quality of those services cannot be ascertained.
  • Public policy must change to support and protect sexual minorities. Institutional discrimination must be banished. Now.
  • Researchers themselves need to be educated about LGBT issues so that current research efforts can be expanded to include LGBT people.

The report is available here. It also includes some statistics and a lot of good recommendations for public health and public policy.