Same-sex attracted women have higher alcohol and mental health problem rates than heterosexual women but many do not access treatment, a new Australian study has found.
The University of Melbourne-led study of 521 same-sex attracted women found that 70 per cent of those aged 18-25 reported problematic alcohol use that exceeded national guidelines, but only six per cent accessed treatment.
Only 41.1 per cent of participants who needed mental health and alcohol treatment had used it.
The research found significant barriers to service access included not feeling ready for help and previous negative experiences related to their sexual identity.
The women were more likely to seek help if they had a connection to the LGBTIQ community and regular GP they had disclosed their sexuality to.
“Same-sex attracted women (SSAW) are consistently less likely than heterosexual women to use alcohol treatment services, despite reporting more problematic drinking,” the study reads.
“Bisexual and ‘mainly heterosexual’ women demonstrate even higher risk than lesbian women.
“Disclosing sexual identity to a regular, trusted GP correlated with improved utilisation of alcohol and mental health treatment for SSAW. The benefits of seeking help for alcohol use, and of accessing LGBT-inclusive GPs to do so, should be promoted to SSAW.”
Lead researcher and University of Melbourne Honorary Professor Ruth McNair said some of the women were reluctant to seek professional help as they worried about being discriminated against or not being taken seriously.
“It’s even more important for people who have suffered some discrimination and that’s one of the underlying reasons for their drug or alcohol use,” Professor McNair said.
She said it was important for health professionals to be aware of LGBTIQ issues and encourage patients to feel comfortable discussing them, because “it doesn’t often come up.”
Professor McNair said organisations such as the Australian Lesbian Medical Association and the Victorian AIDS Council could help women find LGBTIQ-friendly health professionals.
The study involved researchers from the University of Melbourne, La Trobe University, Columbia University, Royal Melbourne Hospital and Monash University, and was published in the UK Royal College of General Practitioners’ journal BJGP Open.