Many in the LGBTQIA+ community have difficulty accessing mental health services. Better benefits are a step toward a solution.
Mental health is more important than ever: Nearly six in ten workers say stress and burnout is their top wellbeing concern at their place of employment. Workplace stress not only leads to lowered productivity and higher rates of absenteeism and employee turnover, it also has a human cost that can’t be quantified. And for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, a significant contributor to workplace stress remains discrimination: 36% reported experiencing workplace discrimination, and 46% reported keeping their identity confidential at the office.
This is why it’s paramount that access to mental healthcare is available to all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. “Stigma and discrimination are often barriers to accessing care,” says Nyota Pieh, Ph.D., telemedicine lead psychiatrist and head of gender reaffirming assessment at Lyra Health, a leading provider of innovative mental health benefits. “When individuals do engage, they may encounter a provider or system that has not been trained to understand and support the unique needs of LGBTQ+ population—and many have also been simply denied care that is needed.”
Even the most robust roster of mental health benefits is useless if employees don’t feel comfortable accessing them. Feelings of isolation and minimal social support combined with experiencing discrimination often lead to reluctance on the part of an LGBTQIA+ person to engage in mental health care.
That’s why it’s essential to give employees a sense of psychological safety when it comes to accessing mental health services. “It is important to create a safe and inclusive environment,” notes Dr. Pieh. “Programs need to be culturally responsive and ensure that providers who do this work are trained to understand the sociocultural and historical context in which health disparities in this community exist.”
It’s important to note that bias isn’t always obvious. Implicit bias can negatively affect the way providers interact with LGBTQIA+ patients, which is why educating providers is essential. Lyra Health offers training and education around LGBTQIA+ health to its providers to ensure the network is aligned along best practices for that community.
Finally, part of psychological safety is feeling heard. “There must also be opportunities for feedback and process improvement,” Pieh adds, “so that both programs and providers individually can continue to grow and improve where needed.”
Designing the program
A wellness program that supports the mental health of LGBTQIA+ employees will have several key features built into its design:
- Give all employees the right to share their identity—or keep it private
- A designated, accessible safe space
- Prioritization of the message that they are in a safe environment
- Culturally responsive care and a diverse provider network
“Programs also need to be aware of how physical health and mental health impact each other,” Pieh notes. “At Lyra Health we strive to provide care that is affirming and supports diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) efforts.”
Part of that is a commitment to having a diverse group of providers that reflect the patients served—17% of Lyra Health’s network self-identify as LGBTQIA+. This helps create opportunities for members of this community to engage in care where they are fully seen and heard. “We provide services that not only address co-existing mental health conditions,” notes Pieh, “but also provide evaluations and referral letters for individuals who are seeking gender-affirming surgery.”
A key aspect of a mental wellness program is that it be trauma-informed, which shifts the conversation from “what’s wrong with you” to “what happened to you,” engaging the individual to get a complete picture of their mental and physical health past and present. At Lyra Health, 62% of their providers are trauma-informed. Pieh and Lyra Health are committed to changing the current state of mental health services for LGBTQIA+ employees everywhere. “We aim to create opportunities for LGBTQIA+ individuals to engage in care where they are fully seen and heard,” Pieh says.