A School of Public Health assistant professor whose research focuses on understanding and addressing the mental health needs of young LGBTQ people has been recognized by the National Institutes of Health with an Early-Stage Investigator Award.
Jessica Fish, assistant professor of family science, was selected for the NIH’s Sexual and Gender Minority Research Early Stage Investigator Award, which honors a researcher who is early in their career whose work has made substantial contributions in areas related to the health of LGBTQ people.
“It’s very humbling and very nice to be recognized for the work that I’ve done,” said Fish, who is also deputy director for research and evaluation for the CDC-funded UMD Prevention Research Center (PRC). Fish is the principal investigator for a project that is implementing and evaluating the effectiveness of an LGBTQ cultural competency training for mental health care providers.
Fish’s work has included research showing higher rates of substance use disorders among LGBTQ young people as compared to heterosexual, cisgender youth; the added stress of being quarantined at home during the pandemic with family members who may not be accepting of one’s identity; and the overrepresentation of LGBTQ children in foster care and child welfare.
“The primary goal of her scholarship is to inform developmentally sensitive policies, programs and practices that promote the health of sexual and gender minority people across the life course,” wrote the NIH in administering the award.
NIH has given out the investigator awards since 2018. The three winners will be honored with a ceremony on Sept. 15, where they will each present a lecture.
“I know I want to focus on young LGBTQ people, which is where the bulk of my work has been, and in particular what’s going on with regard to policy and rhetoric about LGBTQ young people, given the current policy environment in the United States,” said Fish about her upcoming lecture.
Fish hopes that the recognition that comes with the award will allow her to act as an even stronger advocate for kids and teens facing difficult issues. Her Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Health (SOGI Health) Research Group is working to examine how state level policies related to LGBTQ+ issues are associated with systematic differences in health and victimization for sexual and gender minorities.
“LGBTQ young people … are still showing elevated rates of suicidal ideation and behavior, depression and substance use,” she said. “Being able to give voice to that inequity and to try and influence all these programs that specifically address these inequities has been the work I've been most proud of,” she said.
- Department of Family Science
- Prevention Research Center