A Washington Health Alliance Diversity Initiative: Addressing the Behavioral Health Needs of the LGBTQ+ Community

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A Washington Health Alliance Diversity Initiative: Addressing the Behavioral Health Needs of the LGBTQ+ Community

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has had serious repercussions on the nation’s mental health.

A Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) survey shows that 25.9 million past-year users of alcohol and 10.9 million past-year users of drugs other than alcohol reported that they were using these substances “a little more or much more” than they did before the pandemic began. Adults who had any mental illness were more likely to report that the pandemic negatively affected their mental health “quite a bit or a lot.” And there were similar effects on young adults, those who had a major depressive episode in the previous year reported that they were more likely to feel that the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected their mental health “quite a bit or a lot.”

In Mental Health America’s 2020 ranking, Washington state ranks 46th in the nation for the prevalence of mental illness and access to care for adults, meaning there is a higher prevalence and lower rate of access than almost all other states. The ranking looked at the number of adults with any mental illness who reported an unmet need, did not receive treatment, were uninsured, had substance use disorder in the past year, had thoughts of suicide, or had a disability but could not see a doctor due to costs.

For the LGBTQ+ population, the statistics are even more compelling. KFF reports three-fourths of LGBTQ+ people (74%) say that worry and stress from the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health, compared to 49% of those who are not LGBTQ+. The LGBTQ+ population is more likely to say that the negative impact has been major, 49% compared to 23%. In general, LGBTQ+ individuals are at elevated risk for some mental health and behavioral health conditions, with studies finding that they are two and a half times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance misuse.

Washington state’s LGBTQ+ population is estimated at 5.2% and makes up approximately 6% of the workforce (226,000 workers). More than 340,000 people over age 13 in Washington state identify as LGBTQ+. The mental health needs of LGBTQ+ youth are significant; 42% seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth. For those that sought counseling from a mental health professional, 48% reported that they were unable to access services. Lower rates of attempting suicide were reported by LGBTQ+ youth who were able to access spaces that affirmed their sexual orientation and gender identity. And LGBTQ+ individuals are three times more likely to avoid health and mental health care.

If you’re interested in comparing behavioral health across health plans in Washington state, I encourage you to check out the behavioral health measures in the 2022 Community Checkup. You may be surprised by the differences between the rate of mental health services provided to the commercial and Medicaid populations here 1.

To bring more awareness to the challenges LGBTQ+ individuals experience, the Washington Health Alliance’s Diversity initiative is organizing a free community event—a special director’s cut viewing of Between the Shades, a documentary exploring the many different expressions of being gay in America. Joining us will be director Jill Salvino who will open the event and we will hold a panel discussion on how we can better support the behavioral health needs of the LGBTQ+ community with facilitator Mercer Principal Michael Garrett. Garrett works on diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare so that health disparities are identified and health equity is realized and is a frequent writer on the topic. You can view his and other articles on the Alliance’s DEI Resources page.

I hope you can join us for this exciting event on Saturday, June 25th, the day before the Seattle Pride Parade, at 12:30 pm at the SIFF Cinema Egyptian at 805 E. Pine Street in Seattle. This event will be live streamed so all across the state and beyond can participate. Stay tuned for registration information that will be coming soon.

All the best,


1Health plan results are reported by the National Committee for Quality Assurance and republished by the Alliance.


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