$199,080 NIH Grant for ‘Peer Advocates’ for Rural LGBT People

By Melanie Arter | April 2, 2015 | 10:38 AM EDT

In this photo taken on Monday, Dec. 29, 2014, Ozzie Russ, left and his partner Steve Schlariet, plaintiffs in the case that led to a federal judge ruling Florida's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional, pose at their ranch in Chipley, Fla. (AP Photo/Melissa Nelson-Gabriel)

(CNSNews.com) – The National Institutes of Health through its National Institute of Mental Health has awarded $199,080 in taxpayer funds to the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation for a grant to provide peer advocates for rural LGBT people.

According to the grant, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons living in rural areas suffer “disproportionately” from mental health and substance abuse compared to their heterosexual counterparts, and they “face tremendous challenges in accessing appropriate treatment and social support for mental illness and substance use disorders.”

Researchers theorized that the higher prevalence of mental illness and substance abuse is due to “minority stress,” specifically “stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and violence toward socially disadvantaged groups.”

“Building upon our formative research, we will design, implement, and evaluate a data- and theory driven intervention that will address these challenges within the predominantly rural state of New Mexico,” it added.

“This will be accomplished by developing an educational curriculum to educate peer advocates in LGBT mental health and substance use issues, who will then empower LGBT people in rural communities to proactively address social contextual factors that affect their use of LGBT-affirmative treatment and social support,” the grant said.

Previous research conducted in New Mexico “suggests that professional providers frequently fail to recognize how the experience of minority stress affects rural LGBT people and are often ill-prepared to provide quality services to this population.”

The study, titled, “Developing a Peer Advocate Intervention for Rural LGBT Populations, will have three aims: “(1) Develop the empowerment protocol, coaching manual, and peer advocate support system; (2) Design and implement a training curriculum to prepare individuals to serve as peer advocates; (3) Conduct a pilot test of the empowerment protocol that will yield preliminary qualitative and quantitative data on feasibility, acceptability, and impacts on treatment access and utilization and social support for LGBT help seekers.”

“To our knowledge, there are no similar interventions tailored for rural sexual and gender minorities, even though such individuals face significant mental health disparities,” the grant said.

The project started on July 20, 2011 and ended on March 30, 2015. The budget for the project started on July 1, 2013 and ended also on March 30, 2015.

CNSNews.com contacted Cathleen Willging, project leader for the study, for comment, but no calls or emails were returned by press time.