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A statewide initiative is working to increase mental health services for the local LGBTQ community 

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Not all visits to the doctor are created equal, and this can be especially true for members of the LGBTQ community. Take for example, Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA) Executive Director Michelle Call's recent trip to see a doctor with her 15-year-old child.

"The child was mis-gendered from the minute we walked in to the minute we walked out," Call said. "It was pretty clear that the office didn't have the knowledge that was necessary."

click to enlarge WELL BEING GALA Executive Director Michelle Call and other members of the community are working to increase LGBTQ affirmation in health care provider offices. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • WELL BEING GALA Executive Director Michelle Call and other members of the community are working to increase LGBTQ affirmation in health care provider offices.

Calls' child identifies as non-binary, but the office didn't use her child's chosen name, and the doctor tried but failed to use the right pronoun when addressing her child.

It's not uncommon to hear stories like this from individuals in the LGBTQ community, according to Elissa Feld, an associate with Transitions Mental-Health Association and co-lead (alongside Call) of the local #Out4Mental Health Task Force. Feld said it comes down to the front desk of a health or mental health care provider's office and a lack of knowledge or basic awareness about using LGBTQ-affirming language, such as using the correct pronouns when addressing a patient.

Because of this common experience that members of the LGBTQ community are having, the task force is focusing on tackling two policy changes locally. The first is to facilitate or host more LGBTQ-affirming trainings for the public and for health care and mental health providers, and the second is to create guidelines for what makes a provider LGBTQ-affirming.

"When someone has a negative experience, it's hard, and it's already hard enough reaching out for that mental health support regardless of these extra barriers," Feld said.

GALA's current Cal Poly intern, Alexa Szombathy, is tasked with research and outreach to understand how other counties have created guidelines for their providers, and something like that might work locally. Szombathy said she's currently asking mental health providers in San Luis Obispo County whether they identify as LGBTQ-affirming, and, if so, how they became affirming.

Created by California's Mental Health Services Oversight Accountability Commission, #Out4MentalHealth is a statewide initiative funded by Proposition 63, which distributes funds to each county within the state for mental health programs. The goal of #Out4MentalHealth is to create a place where members of the LGBTQ community can go for help if and when they need it. The initiative aims to eliminate mental health disparities for the LGBTQ community throughout the state.

The Mental Health Services Oversight Accountability Commission, NorCal Mental Health America, and California LGBT Health and Human Services have worked together to identify counties within the state that would benefit from a task force that would work to increase mental health services for the LGBTQ community. San Luis Obispo was one of the five counties identified. Feld said #Out4MentalHealth Task Force formally began in July 2017.

"With that, we have this support from the folks up in Sacramento to help guide us in policy analysis, needs assessment, in helping us navigate our unique community, and to get stakeholders on board," Feld said. "But the real work is done here in the county with bringing everyone to the table with the goal of advocating for increasing mental health services for the LGBTQ community."

Within the first year, Feld said, the task force had several meetings that included members from the community at large, LGBTQ community, and health care providers.

"It's really cool to see how our county is taking notice and making efforts to be inclusive with services and ensuring all individual's needs are being met appropriately," she said. Δ

Staff Writer Karen Garcia can be reached at kgarcia@newtimesslo.com.

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