John Pachankis, the Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Public Health (Social and Behavioral Sciences) at the Yale School of Public Health, has been named a Fulbright Scholar for the 2022-23 school year.
Pachankis directs Yale’s LGBTQ Mental Health Initiative and is an affiliated faculty member of the Yale Institute for Global Health. He will be a visiting scholar at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, one of the world’s foremost medical research universities.
“I feel honored to have been selected and excited for the opportunity to approach LGBTQ people’s mental health from the unique context of Sweden,” he said.
Social and Behavioral Sciences Department Chair and Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Public Health Trace Kershaw added, “The Fulbright is prestigious and recognizes the global importance of John’s work on sexual and gender minority individuals’ mental health. The application of John’s work using comprehensive population data in Sweden will further help him understand the mechanisms driving mental health inequities among sexual and gender minority individuals globally.”
Pachankis’ focus will be on why the LGBTQ population in Sweden – one of the world’s most tolerant countries – faces similar disparities in mental health troubles as people in less tolerant nations.
“LGBTQ people experience among the highest rates of depression, anxiety, alcohol use and suicidality of any risk group, which is widely understood to result from stigma – the stereotypes, low status and unequal power faced by the marginalized,” explained Pachankis, who has published more than 100 papers on LGBTQ mental health. “Yet, despite Sweden being one of the lowest-stigma countries in the world, LGBTQ people in Sweden nonetheless experience disproportionately high rates of these conditions – often as disproportionately high as those faced in higher-stigma countries. My research during this cross-country exchange will examine several explanations for this paradox using both the high-quality nationally representative data available in Sweden and qualitative interviews with diverse LGBTQ Swedes.”
Pachankis said that the Fulbright application process was pretty straightforward, and he believes having had a focus going in – having already worked on this subject with Swedish counterparts – gave him an advantage in earning the fellowship.
“Perhaps the most challenging part for applicants could be identifying a host country and a research proposal that takes advantage of the unique resources and environment of that country,” he said. “I have been working closely with colleagues in Sweden on LGBTQ mental health research for several years, and we’ve noticed similarities and differences between the mental health experiences of LGBTQ people in the U.S. and Sweden. This background seemed to lend itself nicely to a cross-cultural research exchange focused on further understanding these initial findings.”
“Because my research in the U.S. also tries to identify strategies for effectively delivering high-quality mental health care to LGBTQ people, I hope to learn about the benefits of universal mental health care for LGBTQ people in Sweden and the ways that the Swedish healthcare system has met the increasing demand for such services,” he continued. “I hope these lessons can inform my lab’s attempts to reach LGBTQ people in need across the U.S., despite the substantial inequities perpetuated by U.S. systems.”
The Fulbright Scholar Program, under the auspices of the U.S. State Department, offers more than 400 awards in more than 130 countries for American citizens to teach, conduct research and carry out professional projects around the world. Its prestige, combined with being open to scholars of all fields, makes the application process highly competitive – which makes Pachankis all the happier for achieving this goal.
“Because applicants from any discipline can apply to the Fulbright program, I was unsure how a public health proposal would be reviewed in comparison to applications from all other disciplines from the humanities to the sciences,” he said. “I’m heartened that my application focused on LGBTQ people’s mental health appears to have been well-received by the review committees in both the U.S. and Sweden.”
Pachankis joined the YSPH faculty in 2013 and received the Susan Dwight Bliss professorship in 2018. He was promoted to full professor at the start of the Spring 2022 semester. Pachankis founded the Yale LGBTQ Mental Health Initiative, originally called the Esteem Lab, in 2013; it serves as a home for scholarship devoted to understanding and improving the mental health of LGBTQ populations in the U.S. and around the world.
“This award will widen the impact of the Yale LGBTQ Mental health Initiative that John created,” Kershaw said.