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RNDr. Michal Pitoňák, Ph.D.

National Institute of Mental Health
Head of the Working Group on Mental and Public Health of Sexually and Gender Diverse People

Navigating LGBTQ+ Mental Health Research in the Post-Socialist Context of Central and Eastern Europe


In the evolving landscape of LGBTQ+ psychology and psychiatry, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) presents a unique milieu. This region, often compared to a broadly defined West, exhibits a distinct temporal and sociopolitical trajectory in LGBTQ+ rights and mental health research. Pioneering studies in CEE are beginning to address the critical gap in understanding the mental health and well-being challenges faced by sexual and gender minority (SGM) individuals. This research acknowledges the historical pathologization of “homosexuality,” as well as the importance of the LGBTQ+ community’s voice in fostering depathologization and advancing rights. This “Western journey” finds its early roots in the works of CEE sexologists like Magnus Hirschfeld. 

However, the trajectory of LGBTQ+ rights and recognition in CEE has been nonlinear, influenced by the rise of Nazism and the subsequent division of Europe. The delay in civil society organizing under communist regimes, coupled with the simultaneous influx of diverse discourses in the post-socialist era, created a complex environment for LGBTQ+ activism and visibility. Despite “slow progress,” the formation of LGBTQ+ organizations and public events marked significant milestones, albeit often met with public intolerance and, more recently, with legislative stagnation or even backlash. 

These dynamics are crucial in understanding the mental health of LGBTQ+ populations within CEE. Structural stigma and legislative obstacles, including laws restricting LGBTQ+ visibility and information, exacerbate minority stress.  

This keynote address will contextualize this development and share lessons learned over the past years to address the existing challenges. Mainly (a) the importance of focusing on the promotion of comprehensive, accessible, and non-pathologizing approaches while opening up conversations and sharing results about existing mental health disparities, (b) the necessity of methodological advancements of current studies to enable SGM research, and the need for (c) establishing institutional recognition for LGBTQ+ psychology. 

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