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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 (SGM)–related research and activities at NIMH.

“Sexual and gender minority” is an umbrella term that encompasses lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations as well as those whose sexual orientation, gender identity, and expressions, or reproductive development that 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 NIH Sexual and Gender Minority Research Office, the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), as well as 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 specific interest in the following SGM research areas:

  • Identification of mutable and mechanistic causes of disparities in mental health clinical (including suicide thoughts and behaviors) and functional outcomes 1 (including SMI) from which interventions 2 targeting health equity can be developed and tested. This could include interventions at the individual, family, provider, clinic or system-level, 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.
  • 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.
  • The development and testing of stigma reduction interventions that address social cultural barriers that aim to change knowledge/attitudes/beliefs, behavior (e.g., clients, providers, etc.), or structures (e.g., clinics, systems, etc.) and that improve access, engagement, retention, treatment adherence, quality of care, and mental health outcomes (including suicide risk) for SGM individuals across the life course.
  • Studies proposing to 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 NAMHC Workgroup Report, "From Discovery to Cure: Accelerating the Development of New and Personalized Interventions for Mental Illnesses", Recommendation 2.4.1, page 19, for additional guidance).
  • 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.

Additional Information

The NIH Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office is pleased to announce publication of a new section of their website, Methods and Measurement in Sexual & Gender Minority Health Research. Information provided includes data sources, examples of sexual orientation and gender identity questions, and related publications.

The NIMHD Director’s Message on Sexual and Gender Minorities being Formally Designated as a Health Disparity Population for Research Purposes

Funding opportunities and Initiatives Specific to SGM Research

  • Notice of Special Interest in Research on the Health of Sexual and Gender Minority (SGM) Populations
  • Research on the Health of Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Populations

Staff Contacts:

For SGM research related to HIV/AIDS contact:
Susannah Allison, Ph.D.
Program Officer
Division of AIDS Research
5601 Fishers Lane
240-627-386; allisonsu@mail.nih.gov

For SGM Mental Health Research (non-HIV/AIDS) contact:
Tamara Lewis Johnson, MPH, MBA
Health Science Administrator
Women’s Mental Health Research Program
Office for Disparities Research and Workforce Diversity
6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 7209
301-594-7963; tamara.lewisjohnson@nih.gov

1 Hackman, D. A., Farah, M. J., & Meaney, M. J. (2010). Socioeconomic status and the brain: Mechanistic insights from human and animal research. Nature Reviews: Neuroscience, 11(9), 651–659. http://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2897

2 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. (See: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/2012/experimental-medicine.shtml) Therefore, applications should specify the intervention targets/mechanisms and test the hypothesis that intervention-induced changes in the targets/mechanisms account for the intervention outcomes (see NIMH web page on Clinical Trials). This approach is intended to provide evidence to validate change mechanisms and allow for interpretation of negative outcomes (i.e., to identify and understand the instances in where the intervention did not engage the targets or where engagement of the targets did not lead to the intended outcome).