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Coordination of Sexual and Gender Minority Mental Health Research at NIMH

The Office of Disparities Research and Workforce Diversity (ODWD) coordinates sexual and gender minority–related research and activities at NIMH.

Sexual and gender minority (SGM) is an umbrella term that encompasses lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations as well as those whose sexual orientation, gender identity, expressions, or reproductive development varies from traditional, societal, cultural, or physiological norms. This includes individuals with differences of sex development (DSD), sometimes known as intersex.

The NIMH recognizes that more mental health research involving SGM populations is essential to gain a better understanding of the complex factors impacting the well-being and mental health needs of SGM individuals and to reduce the mental health disparities experienced by many in the SGM community.

In 2016, the NIH formally designated sexual and gender minorities as a health disparity population alongside racial/ethnic minorities, socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, and underserved rural populations.

ODWD works closely with the Sexual and Gender Minority Research Office , the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) , and other NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices to address disparities in SGM populations.

NIMH staff are working to:

  • Expand the knowledge base of SGM mental health and well-being
  • Remove barriers to planning, conducting, and reporting NIMH-supported research on SGM mental health and well-being
  • Strengthen the community of researchers who conduct mental health research relevant to SGM populations

NIMH sexual and gender minority research priorities

NIMH has a specific interest in identifying mutable and mechanistic causes of disparities  in mental health clinical (including suicide thoughts and behaviors) and functional outcomes (including SMI) from which interventions targeting health equity can be developed and tested. 

This could include individual, family, provider, clinic-level, or system-level interventions based on the empirical evidence for the contributing factor(s). Descriptive studies of the prevalence and characteristics of mental disorders in SGM individuals are considered low priority.

For research on all types of interventions, NIMH requires that studies not only test the intervention effects on the outcomes of interest but are designed to examine the intervention’s mechanism of action. Applications should specify the intervention targets/mechanisms and test the hypothesis that intervention-induced changes in the targets/mechanisms account for the intervention outcomes. 

This approach is intended to provide evidence to validate change mechanisms and allow for the interpretation of adverse outcomes (i.e., to identify and understand the instances in which the intervention did not engage the targets or where engagement of the targets did not lead to the intended outcome).

NIMH is interested in studies of how non-mental health specialty settings (e.g., SGM social or support groups, human resources or employee assistance programs, educational settings, etc.) can contribute to and support screening, referral, diagnosis, and treatment or prevention of mental illness and suicide behavior in SGM populations.

NIMH supports the development and testing of stigma reduction interventions that address social and cultural barriers that aim to: 

  • Change knowledge/attitudes/beliefs, behavior (e.g., clients, providers, etc.), or structures (e.g., clinics, systems, etc.)  
  • Improve access, engagement, retention, treatment adherence, quality of care, and mental health outcomes (including suicide risk) for SGM individuals across the life course

NIMH is interested in studies that adapt interventions for sexual and gender minorities from racial or ethnic minority groups that demonstrate an empirical basis for the need for intervention adaptation and how adaptation is expected to achieve equity in mental health outcomes among those groups (see the National Advisory Mental Health Council Workgroup report, recommendation 2.4.1, page 19, for additional guidance).

NIMH is interested in:

  • Studies to better understand disparities in HIV rates and outcomes among SGM individuals living with HIV and how to mitigate them 
  • Studies that assess the factors impeding scale up of efficacious HIV prevention interventions for SGM individuals and develop approaches to address these barriers

NIMH also seeks studies that:

  • Include sufficient numbers of SGM subjects to enable robust sub-group analyses
  • Enable secondary data analyses to advance novel strategies for improving the quality of mental health care for SGM individuals

Funding opportunities and initiatives specific to SGM Research

Additional information


For SGM mental health research (non-HIV/AIDS) contact:
Tamara Lewis Johnson, M.P.H., MBA
Health Science Administrator
Women’s Mental Health Research Program
Office for Disparities Research and Workforce Diversity

For SGM research related to HIV/AIDS contact:
Susannah Allison, Ph.D.
Program Officer
Division of AIDS Research