A special feature and SLIDESHOW in honor of LGBT Health Awareness Week…
By Tierra Ortiz-Rodriguez, M.Ed., LPC Intern
LGBT Health Awareness Week is held annually in March to promote awareness of the top health issues facing our community, so we’re holding a special exhibit in our second floor lobby all week, March 23-29, to call attention to the health disparities that continue to exist. LGBT individuals are more likely to have risk factors for heart (cardiovascular) disease, certain types of cancer, chemical dependency, and mental illness, and are less likely to have access to healthcare, to get screened and tested regularly, and to find culturally competent providers. We’ve got some of those covered, like outpatient substance abuse treatment, mental health, HIV testing and cultural competency.
But just knowing this is not the main point of LGBT Health Awareness Week. We think of it as more of a call to action: Refuse to be a health statistic!
Our week-long exhibit goes beyond health disparities to look at ways you can empower yourself through education, getting connected to healthcare, becoming skillful self-advocates, and initiating lifestyle changes that promote health and recovery. The end goal is to develop LGBT health literacy, or Q-Literacy, which is being able to 1.) get the health information you need, 2.) take the time to understand it, and 3.) use it to make informed decisions for you about your medical and health needs. That probably seems pretty simple.
Let’s look at it more closely so you can improve your health literacy and become active in your own health. Stop by our exhibit, grab a piece of fruit, and take a journey into wellness with us!
- Know your risk factors. Some of the major health issues we face include elevated rates of heart disease, cancer, substance abuse, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), physical inactivity, stress, obesity, depression, and suicide. The more risk factors you have, the greater the toll on your physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. It is important to acknowledge your risks, educate yourself, and learn how to manage your unique healthcare needs.
- Connect to care. Many of us in the LGBT community delay or just don’t seek healthcare, and for a variety of reasons. Accessibility and affordability are very real concerns. Yet, there are many resources available to help assist you in getting connected to healthcare. Consider options like employer health insurance, the health insurance marketplace for the uninsured (Obamacare), the Harris Health Patient Financial Assistance program for Harris County residents, and community health centers with grants and sliding scales. The Montrose Center offers grant-funded services and discounted fees. We also have a certified application counselor to assist in applying for the insurance marketplace. The deadline to enroll for coverage this year is March 31. Please call Fred Renninger 713-529-0037 ext 362.
- Come out to your healthcare provider. Once you’re connected to care, come out to your doctor! OutForHealth explains that you deserve healthcare that pays attention to all of who you are, including your sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. Finding a culturally competent healthcare provider who knows how to treat LGBT people is priceless and will reduce the barriers to care.
- Take advantage of your healthcare team. People obtain healthcare in variety of ways, working with any number of healthcare professionals, such as the primary care doctor, psychiatrist, nutritionist, counselor, case manager, recovery coach, peer wellness specialist, etc. Often these professionals work in different settings and locations. When you work with two or more providers simultaneously, they become your healthcare team. Be diligent in keeping them all in the loop on things like the medications you take, your substance abuse history, and any changes to exercise and diet your are considering. Encourage them to communicate with each other about your care!
- Ask questions. Everyone has trouble understanding healthcare information and sorting through healthcare options from time to time. Providers can fall short in providing clear and helpful information to their patients. Develop your skills of medical self-advocacy by asking questions, requesting information, taking notes, bringing a support person with you, and expressing your concerns.
- Ask for routine exams. Your providers may not ask if you want to test for HIV or cervical cancer as part of routine care, so know what exams and tests you need to keep up with according to your gender, age and family history. Common tests include cholesterol, diabetes, blood pressure, breast exam, mammogram, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and STIs.
So now that you have some tools to get you started on your path to health literacy, why not use LGBT Health Awareness Week to tell someone else how they, too, can improve their overall quality of life? We hope to see you visiting our lobby!
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