Rutgers Psychiatrist, First Overtly Homosexual APA President, Advocates Increasing Psychological Well being Companies

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A tutorial chief in dependancy and LGBTQ+ psychological well being analysis, Petros Levounis plans to make use of platform to proceed preventing for social justice

It was a bleak time for the LGBTQ+ neighborhood when Petros Levounis got here out as a homosexual man within the early Nineteen Eighties.

Not like lots of his friends, who have been ostracized by family and friends, the Stanford pre-med scholar felt accepted by his family members. However there was no escaping the worry that gripped the queer neighborhood through the early days of the HIV/AIDS disaster.

“Individuals have been determined and enrolled in medical trials and would have AZT events. They put all their drugs in a giant bowl, and everybody would get half the dose of the ingredient,” mentioned Levounis, professor and chair of the Division of Psychiatry and affiliate dean for skilled growth at Rutgers New Jersey Medical Faculty. “It was obliterating the scientific trials however delivering a minimum of some hope to individuals who have been so determined on the time.”

A lot has modified within the practically 4 many years since Levounis studied the implications of these AZT events for his medical faculty thesis. A virus that was as soon as thought-about a demise sentence is now treatable. Discrimination towards the LGBTQ+ neighborhood that was as soon as widespread – together with legal guidelines banning marriage, army service and extra – continues to recede. And in Might, Levounis was elected as the primary overtly homosexual president of the American Psychiatric Affiliation (APA) since its founding in 1844.

A tutorial chief in psychiatry within the fields of dependancy analysis and LGBTQ+ psychological well being, Levounis is certain he isn’t the primary LGBTQ+ individual to guide the APA. He acknowledges standing on the shoulders of some predecessors who, though they might not had been open about their sexual orientation of their skilled lives, advocated on behalf of the queer neighborhood. His appointment additionally serves as a foil to the stigma many nonetheless face, mentioned Levounis, pointing to Florida’s so-called “Do not Say Homosexual” invoice signed into legislation this spring by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“I do really feel like I reside in a really well-protected bubble – each in my occupation and my social world, working and dwelling with likeminded individuals,” mentioned Levounis, who lives within the Chelsea part of Manhattan together with his actor/filmmaker husband Lukas Hassel, whom he met on the 1 Prepare in 2004. “We’re all the time going ahead and making advances towards stigma and discrimination. However it isn’t uniform and unidirectional progress we’re making. There may be quite a lot of backlash. We have now a lot extra work to do and have to be hypervigilant about this sort of effort to push the clock again.”

Rutgers psychiatrist Petros Levounis with his husband Lukas Hassel.
Petros Levounis lives within the Chelsea part of Manhattan together with his actor/filmmaker husband Lukas Hassel, whom he met on the 1 Prepare in 2004.

Courtesy of Petros Levounis


The APA’s historical past of combating homophobia started with its determination to take away homosexuality from its listing of psychological sicknesses practically 50 years in the past in 1973. Levounis’s priorities as APA president embody persevering with to amplify that message in addition to psychiatrists’ stance towards systemic racism and local weather change. He additionally plans to battle for parity in reimbursement of medical providers for psychological well being on par with different medical specialties. Above all, he’s dedicated to constructing extra residencies and growing revolutionary profession pathways for younger psychiatrists to fulfill America’s rising want for psychological well being providers.

“For the longest time psychiatrists can be screaming from the rooftops that we must always pay extra consideration to psychological well being, after which the pandemic accelerated an appreciation of psychological well being points from society at massive,” mentioned Levounis. “It has caught us abruptly, and we wouldn’t have the workforce to answer this monumental demand for psychiatric providers. The shortage of psychiatrists is much more acute within the state of New Jersey.”

Rising up in Piraeus, the port of Athens, Greece, Levounis thought he’d comply with in his father’s footsteps and develop into an internist and bronchial asthma specialist. For 50 years, the household patriarch tended to sufferers in his house workplace with the help of his spouse, who’s a nurse.

However Levounis fell in love with the examine of chemistry and psychiatry at Stanford College, receiving his medical schooling there and on the Medical Faculty of Pennsylvania. His coaching in psychiatry adopted on the New York State Psychiatric Institute of Columbia College.

“It was fascinating to see what’s happening in a deeper degree in individuals’s heads. Why we act the way in which we act. Why we really feel the way in which we really feel,” mentioned Levounis, who accomplished a fellowship in dependancy psychiatry at New York College, was a Betty Ford Scholar and served as director of the Habit Institute of New York at Columbia College for greater than a decade. “It wasn’t simply understanding psychological sickness that fascinated me however doing one thing about it.”

His affinity for chemistry and psychiatry led Levounis to concentrate on dependancy analysis, the place he mentioned he might recognize each on a molecular degree and a societal degree the way in which chemical substances and environmental determinants mixed to form his sufferers’ lives. Within the late Nineteen Nineties and early 2000s, as an dependancy specialist dwelling in Manhattan, Levounis had a entrance row seat to the crystal methamphetamine disaster rising amongst his sufferers – particularly homosexual males. That, together with the stigma he’d skilled as a homosexual man, expanded his space of analysis to incorporate psychological well being points affecting the LGBTQ+ inhabitants.

In his decade at Rutgers, Levounis has continued to broaden his areas of experience to incorporate sexual dependancy and gaming/know-how dependancy, and has studied the connections between autism and dependancy. He additionally advocated for assets to attempt to stem the opioid disaster and supply rehabilitation for these in want and pushed to assist launch applications to profit his LGBTQ+ sufferers, together with New Jersey Medical Faculty’s Heart for Transgender Well being and OUT at NJMS, the LGBTQ+ medical scholar group.

“I’m extremely pleased with the issues we’ve achieved. I’m positive I made the best option to cross the river to come back to Rutgers,” he mentioned. “There’s a very deep and natural dedication to variety, fairness and inclusion right here. That is one thing everyone in 2022 claims to be dedicated to, however our faculty is forward of everyone else. That’s one thing I’m significantly pleased with and a part of, what attracted me to Rutgers, and what retains me going every single day.”

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