Young queer women report high levels psychological distress

The biennial survey, conducted by ACON and the University of Sydney

Young LGBTIQ women in New South Wales are reporting experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress, according to new research from the periodic Sydney Women and Sexual Health Survey (SWASH) released this week.

The biennial survey, conducted by ACON and the University of Sydney, collected data from nearly 1300 participants in 2018, ranging in age from 16 to 94 years old.

The new research found 41 per cent of all respondents reported high or very high psychological distress, with this number rising sharply to 62 per cent among respondents aged 16 to 24 – an increase of 20% over the last three iterations of the survey.

Thirty-one per cent of participants said that in the past 12 months they had felt life was not worth living, and 14 per cent reported self-harming.

A majority of respondents (68 per cent) had accessed mental health services in the last five years, and in that same period, 46 per cent had received a diagnosis of depression, anxiety disorder or other mental health disorder.

In other areas of health, 55 per cent of respondents of screening age were overdue for a mammogram, 21 per cent said they had never had a Pap smear, and a further 12 per cent had their last Pap smear more than three years ago.

Thirty-seven per cent of participants also said they had never had an STI test, despite the vast majority being sexually active.

Forty-seven per cent of respondents said they had used illicit drugs in the past six months, a rate higher than the general population.

ACON Acting CEO Karen Price said the data provided by the long-running SWASH study is the main way organisations such as ACON can structure and inform its response to segments of LGBTQ communities that aren’t reached by mainstream health messages.

Lead researcher Dr Julie Mooney-Somers said the SWASH survey provides “unparalleled” insights and this was only possible through community support.

“Australian epidemiological data on a range of health issues experienced by LGBTQ women and non-binary people remains inconsistent and the inclusion of properly worded sexuality and gender indicators in large epidemiological surveys remains patchy,” Mooney-Somers said.

“SWASH provides unparalleled insights into the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ women in NSW and such important community-driven research has only been possible through successful partnerships between researchers, community organisations and of course, participants.

The full 2018 SWASH report can be read online here.

If you need someone to talk to, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

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