How Should The Mental Health Community Treat API LGBTs With Mental Illness?
by Belinda Dronkers-Laureta on May 11th, 2016

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

May 24, 2013

How Should The Mental Health Community Treat API LGBTs With Mental Illness?


When treating mental illness, is there a difference between people with mental illness and who also happen to be LGBT, or people with mental illness because they are LGBT? It may be a distinction without a difference, but if there were a difference, would it affect the healing method? We asked that question of ourselves after attending the “Community Information Meeting” hosted by the Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services (BHCS).

We know there is a higher incidence of mental illness among LGBTs than heterosexuals. The most cited theory to explain this excess is minority stress. Constantly living in a hostile environment marked by stigma, prejudice, and discrimination causes mental health problems. Mental stress is an environmental cause and the person suffers from mental illness because he or she is LGBT.

API Family Pride’s mission is “to end the isolation of Asian and Pacific Islander families with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members through support, education, and dialog.” The work we do focuses on acceptance of API LGBTs by their families so that they are less isolated and have a safe place to take refuge from a hostile environment. Additionally, we, along with many others, work for recognition, acceptance, and respect for LGBTs in the larger community. It may be said that we work to remove minority stress and so prevent mental illness.

BHCS invited us to their meeting to encourage us to apply for a grant. It manages an Innovations Grants program to solicit community proposals from which to learn truly innovative practices and devise healing strategies never tried before. Two rounds of funding have already taken place and the meeting we attended launched the third round. There are two target populations for this third round, one of which is “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning, two spirit clients or customers.”

BHCS used information from a 95-page report about LGBT lives in Alameda County, Making the Invisible Visible, to formulate “learning questions.” A learning question is a question that BHCS expects the successful grantee to answer and for which the grantee must produce a desired outcome. For example, “how would BHCS work more effectively with families who have an [LGBT] member with a serious emotional disturbance or serious mental illness?” is a learning question and its desired outcome is a program design to implement the answer to the question. The LGBT target group has five learning questions.

The question we asked in the beginning is not answered by any of BHCS’ learning questions. It is clear that BHCS just recently recognized that LGBTs with mental illness are a distinct group with unique needs. In contrast to the questions for the other target group (adults and older adults with serious mental illness who are isolated and withdrawn), the LGBT questions all had this “How do we . . .” tone, whereas the questions for the other target population were of the “Can the use of . . .” variety. This is an observation, not a criticism.

We did not apply for the BHSC grants. We are really not set up to carry the administrative burden to administer such a grant, but more importantly, we don’t have any experience how to deal with mentally ill LGBTs. However, the meeting gave us more questions for which we need answers and shone yet a different light at what we do. If our work lies in the prevention part of mental illness, how fruitful would it be to build relationships with those who operate in the actual mental illness part? How would what we learn change what we do? More needs to be said about this, perhaps in an upcoming blog.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride

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