Screening for Sexual Orientation in Psychiatric Emergency Departments
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INTRODUCTION: Our goal was to explore whether emergency department (ED) patients would disclose their sexual orientation in a research evaluation and to examine demographic and clinical characteristics of patients by self-identified sexual orientation. METHODS: Participants (n=177) presented for psychiatric treatment at three urban EDs in New York City, Rochester, NY, and Philadelphia, PA. Participants were interviewed in the context of a larger study of a standardized suicide risk assessment. We assessed participants' willingness to answer questions regarding sexual orientation along three dimensions: a self-description of sexual orientation, a self-description of sexual attraction, and the gender of any prior sexual partners. RESULTS: No participants (0/177) refused to respond to the categorical question about sexual orientation, 168/177 (94.9%) agreed to provide information about prior sexual partners, and 100/109 (91.7%) provided information about current sexual attraction toward either gender. Of all 177 participants, 154 (87.0%) self-identified as heterosexual, 11 (6.2%) as bisexual, 10 (5.6%) as gay or lesbian, and 2 (1.1%) indicated they were not sure. As compared with heterosexual patients, lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) patients were significantly younger and more likely to be non-white, but did not differ significantly in terms of education, income, employment, or religious affiliation or participation. Further, LGB participants did not differ from self-identified heterosexual participants for lifetime suicide attempt rate or lifetime history of any mood, substance-related, psychotic spectrum, or other Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV) Axis I disorder. Of self-identified heterosexual participants 5.6% (5/89) reported sexual attraction as other than 'only opposite sex,' and 10.3% (15/142) of sexually active 'heterosexual' participants reported previous same-gender sexual partners. CONCLUSION: Assessing patients' sexual orientation in the ED by a three-question approach appeared feasible in the ED and acceptable to ED patients. However, since many patients have sexual experiences not suggested by simple labels, self-report of sexual identity alone may not inform clinicians of health risks inherent in same or opposite gender sexual contact.
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