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NIH-Funded Program Aims to Reduce HIV Risks Among Sexual Minority Men

Posted December 19, 2017 –The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2015 that gay and bisexual men accounted for 82 percent of all new HIV diagnoses among men 13 and older. Researchers have invested countless hours developing interventions aimed at curtailing HIV risk behaviors, yet few of these interventions account for the unique minority stressors gay and bisexual men encounter daily.

A new intervention developed by faculty within the Department of Psychological, Health, & Learning Sciences aims to close that gap.

Developed by Associate Professor Nathan Smith and Trevor Hart, Professor of Psychology at Ryerson University, Project PRIDE – Promoting Resilience In Discriminatory Environments – is a theoretically-based HIV-prevention intervention that seeks to promote safer sex practices and curtail drug and alcohol abuse and mental health problems. These factors have been shown to increase the risk of HIV infection among young gay and bisexual men.

Smith, Hart and their co-investigators – the UH College of Education’s Associate Dean for Research Ezemenari Obasi and Associate Professor Weihua Fan – were recently awarded a National Institute of Health grant of more than $270,000 to fund a randomized controlled trial of Project PRIDE.

“Young gay, bisexual and queer men are at a high risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections,” Smith said. “They face unique stressors due to continued societal stigma against homosexuality and bisexuality.”

These socially-based stressors can lead to a variety of negative outcomes, including depression, substance abuse, and failure to engage in safer sex practices.

“Our work,” Smith said, “aims to help young, sexual minority men develop adaptive coping skills for deal with stigma and develop strategies to increase their sexual health.”

Project PRIDE is based on recent theories focused on gay and bisexual men’s health (minority stress theory and syndemic theory) as well as more established theories on stress and coping and proven coping-focused intervention techniques. Participants are taught to identify the stressors in their lives – whether they’re overt stressors like hate crimes or microaggressions or covert stressors like internal stigma – and to develop methods for dealing with those stressors in a healthy way. The goal of Project PRIDE is to help participants find a path towards healthier living that works for them, including increasing condom usage, decreasing or completely stopping the use of drugs or alcohol and increasing mental health.

Smith and Hart previously conducted a small pilot test of Project PRIDE in Montreal and Toronto. The results of that study showed that Project PRIDE was promising at promoting better mental and sexual health. With the aid of their new NIH grant, Smith and his team will conduct a 123-person, randomized controlled trial to see if PRIDE is indeed efficacious. If the trial proves successful, the team plans to seek funding for a larger study.

A key component of Project PRIDE is its sustainability. Smith envisions this program being implemented in community health centers across the country. To keep costs down, the intervention is designed to be delivered by trained community health education workers and volunteers rather than costlier mental health professionals like counselors or psychologists.