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Queer Lifespace Provides Mental Health and Substance Abuse Care

naomiHave you heard of Queer Lifespace? Have you seen their beautiful new office, full of calming energy, on 2275 Market Street (right next door to Books Inc)? They have been there since last May. I was fortunate to meet one of their founders, Nancy Heilner, executive director of QLS, at an art show of a mutual friend, and she agreed to be interviewed for this article.

Queer Lifespace was founded in July 2011 as a non-profit organization that provides low-cost therapy and serves as a training program for graduate level students. Its mission is to provide a safe space for the LGBTQI community with client-centered mental health care.

This is an important, affordable and easily accessible resource providing services for our community by members of our community. Most research has found that there are mental health disparities in the LGBTQI community compared to the general population. This is thought to be connected to the social stigma and discrimination associated with a queer lifestyle.

Our community has been shown to be at higher risk for depression, anxiety, suicide and substance abuse disorders.  LGBTQI individuals are more frequently victimized and experience violence, both physical and verbal. All of these factors can have long-lasting effects on mental health. Mental health disorders may be 2.5 times more prevalent in the queer community versus that of heterosexuals. Heilner concurs, listing anxiety disorders, depression, relationship issues, substance abuse, and isolation as key issues.

“People arrive in San Francisco thinking they’ll come and find immediate community, but they don’t,” she says, adding that this contributes to their depression and other related mental health problems.

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The support groups offered by QLS are especially helpful as an intervention for the isolation she notes. Because different issues might be more prominent among particular clients— for example, substance abuse among gay men—their support groups are tailored to specific groups and/or topics. These include groups for queer women, people of color, men’s relationships, intersex, and harm reduction, to name just a few. The providers at QLS are LGBTQI-identified and, as for Heilner, are “passionate about the need for a space where people will feel safe, and the importance of embracing the entire community in all its diversity.”

Queer Life Space is open Monday through Saturday by appointment. They serve 150 people weekly with individual therapy, couples’ counseling and group programs. You can make appointments by calling 415-358-2000, or visit the website for more information (or to make a donation): www.queerlifespace.org.

Pass it forward! Let’s support this important community resource.

Dr. Naomi Jay is a nurse practitioner in the department of Infectious Disease at UCSF.