An Australian study found that very few same-sex attracted women (SSAW) utilize treatment for alcohol and mental health related issues, despite increased rates of related problems.

The study investigated possible barriers to care that SSAW may experience, including discrimination and concerns about being judged. The results seem to indicate that sexual identity, history of intimate partner violence, and the support of a general practitioner (GP) influence help-seeking behavior of these patients. Additionally, the authors measured the participants’ connectedness to the LGBT community. Barriers to care and connection to community varied by sexual identity such that bisexual women were most likely to utilize health care but less likely to connect with the LGBT community than lesbian women.

This study also found that higher levels of social support were related to reduced service use. The authors hypothesize that this is because participants with good social support preferred to seek help through social networks rather than health services; they note that these findings could be used in health promotion messages that encourage SSAW to seek professional care in specific situations. Given the frequently cited connection between mental health issues and suicide rates, this may be especially important in light of the “public health crisis” that suicide has become in the United States.

One other important finding demonstrated that having a regular GP is associated with the utilization of alcohol and mental health treatment. Previous research has shown that SSAW are less likely than heterosexual women to have a regular GP, which may affect their use of these services. The authors conclude that the enabling of SSAW to have a regular GP could improve service use.

It is also important that patients feel comfortable disclosing their sexual identity to their GP, as this was also associated with greater use of health services. This means that providers should strive to be non-judgmental and encouraging, especially to patients who might not seek out treatment ordinarily. To account for the differences by sexual identity, providers might consider targeted community education for diverse groups of SSAW; this could encourage use of services and give this community the knowledge needed to make informed care decisions.

You can access the full text in BJGP Open here:

You can read the NYTimes’ “How Suicide Quietly Morphed Into a Public Health Crisis” here:

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available. Please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.