Travis Salway is a 2016-2017 Banting Postdoctoral Fellow. His research focuses on the mental health services needs of gay, lesbian, and bisexual (GLB) Canadians in sexual health clinics, and how these needs can be supported. Travis works with nurses, clinic managers, and policy-makers to ensure that new approaches to meeting mental health needs are implemented in existing services.
Gay, lesbian, and bisexual (GLB) Canadians are at higher risk of depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol use problems, and suicide attempts, but there are few places where these mental health needs can be met in a way that is mindful of judgment GLB people may fear, on the basis of their sexuality. Many sexual health clinics already serve as GLB-sensitive points of care for diagnosing and treating sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. These clinics and their nursing staff could be supported in routinely offering assessment, referral, and counseling for mental health concerns; however, the extent to which this is needed and desired has not yet been explored. Through my postdoctoral fellowship, I am using a combination of data sources and methods to characterize the potential for such interventions. The research aims to specifically answer three questions: (1) What are the unmet mental health service needs of GLB clients of sexual health clinics? (2) How can these needs be met through the sexual health clinics? and, (3) What is the appeal of new approaches to meeting mental health needs through sexual health clinics? This study is being conducted in collaboration with nurses, clinic managers, and policy-makers, to ensure that the results are applied to existing services. Ultimately, the study will provide evidence for promising strategies that will not only improve healthcare for sexual health clinic clients but also contribute to reductions in mental health disparities that continue to affect GLB Canadians today.
Why did you decide to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at UBC? Did you consider other opportunities?
My doctoral research examining the epidemiology of suicide among gay and bisexual men in Canada exposed a health inequity that persists in spite of recent shifts in policy and social attitudes toward GLB people. For my postdoctoral research, I wanted to specifically look at solutions to this epidemic. The School of Population and Public Health (SPPH) at UBC is internationally renowned for expertise in infectious disease epidemiology, population health, and social determinants of health, all of which are directly relevant to my postdoctoral research project and career goals. Moreover, there are relatively few institutions where GLB mental health research is occurring. UBC was an ideal setting for my research because of the strong connections between the SPPH and the public health community in BC.
What advice do you have for new postdoctoral fellows?
Find work that you're passionate about, and find people who acknowledge and support that passion. For many of us, the PhD process requires a series of compromises in order to adjust the scope and focus of our research to something manageable. For me, my postdoctoral fellowship is an opportunity to grow as a researcher, without these constraints. This requires self-motivation (passion), first and foremost.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your postdoctoral fellowship?
I love working with nurses and other practitioners who are passionate about improving their clients' lives. I believe that generating meaningful research that in turn enables these providers to do their work well is a primary duty of my job as a researcher. By serving these nurses and health care providers who are working with GLB, I feel that I am serving the broader GLB communities.
What does receiving this award mean for your career?
The Banting Fellowship allows me to focus my attention on the study I have proposed, without needing to take on other work or obligations that may distract me from my research goals. It also connects me to other researchers and practitioners working in my field. I am grateful for the opportunity this fellowship has provided and confident that it will allow me to grow into a career as an independent researcher who is dedicated to GLB health.