AIDS activist Spencer Cox on Monday announced the creation of the New York-based Medius Institute, a new organization dedicated to developing innovative responses to gay men's health issues. The Medius Institute will use the model of research advocacy pioneered by the Treatment Action Group, one of the nation's leading AIDS advocacy groups, to develop and promote solutions to pressing challenges to gay men's health. Cox will serve as the organization's executive director.
"With the development of effective treatments for HIV, the AIDS epidemic is no longer the only urgent health crisis facing gay men in the United States," said Cox, founder of TAG's Antiviral Project and an adviser to several groups, including the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration. "Right now we face a plague of drug addiction that is ravaging our urban communities. Several indicators suggest that we will face extremely high rates of cancer as we age. And despite the key role that depression and other mental health issues play in influencing risks of HIV and other preventable diseases, gay men's mental health needs have gone tragically unaddressed."
"We need to break with this notion that gay men should be studied only when our sex lives happen to intersect with a lethal virus of historic proportions," says Michael Isbell, Medius Institute board president and former associate executive director of Gay Men's Health Crisis. "We have a right to live happy, healthy, well-adjusted lives, and we merit a research agenda--and supportive community organizations--that address the whole range of our physical and mental health concerns."
The institute's initial project is a multidisciplinary workshop that will bring together professionals from a variety of fields to develop a research agenda regarding gay men in midlife. The project's focus on the gay midlife experience reflects growing evidence of high levels of sexual and drug-using risk behaviors among gay men in their mid 30s and 40s--risk-taking that is unaddressed by existing social service and health promotion programs. Studies indicate that much of gay men's risk-taking is related to a series of unaddressed psychosocial challenges, such as loneliness and depression.
"To understand risk-taking among gay men, we need to delve into the factors that predispose men to these situations," says Perry Halkitis, MD, director of the Center for Health, Identity, Behavior, and Prevention Studies at New York University. "On average, gay men experience depression at higher rates than other segments of the population. These psychological states are influenced by and exacerbated by matters of homophobia and stigma, and mental health conditions, especially depression, have been linked to sexual risk-taking. In midlife, when matters of aging are present, depression may also worsen. Thus, to address the risks in the gay population we must understand and seek to treat these mental health challenges."
The institute is also working to initiate pilot programs that assess the impact of universal depression screening in gay men, with particular focus on whether aggressive diagnosis and treatment of depression may reduce future sexual and drug-related risk-taking.
The development of the Medius Institute was made possible through a generous grant from founding sponsor Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and through the assistance of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center of New York.