A Snapshot Of Lesbian Women’s Health In Australia

A new report into the health of Australian lesbian, bisexual and queer (LBQ) women has offered a rare insight into their unique health needs, researchers say.

The biennial Sydney Women and Sexual Health Survey (SWASH) survey is a collaboration between New South Wales LGBTI health organisation ACON and the University of Sydney, looking at LBQ women’s issues including sexual and gender identity, sexual health, mental health, violence, tobacco and drug use, alcohol consumption, and cancer screening behaviours.

According to the report released last week, 30% of the 623 NSW women surveyed were current tobacco smokers (compared to 13% of Australian women in the general population) with 18% smoking daily (compared to 11% of all women). Among the 16 to 24 year old women surveyed, 42% were current tobacco smokers.

Rates of illicit drug use were also found much higher among the women surveyed than in the general community, with 45% having used one or more drugs in the past six months. Eleven per cent had sought help for a drug or alcohol issue in their lifetime.

With regard to mental health, the report found that 65 per cent of women had accessed psychological services in their lifetime, while 47 per cent had received a mental health diagnosis at some point in their life.

Additionally, twenty-two per cent of 16-24 year olds reported experiencing “high psychological distress,” compared to 14% of all the survey’s respondents.

Forty per cent of the women surveyed had experienced some form of anti-LGBTI abuse or harassment in the past year – with instances of verbal abuse or harassment increasing 10% since 2014 – and 26% had experienced domestic violence with a female partner in their lifetime.

Lead researcher Dr Julie Mooney-Somers from the University of Sydney said the survey provided “unique and important” data that is often under-researched, in part because “the inclusion of properly worded sexuality and gender indicators in large epidemiological surveys remains patchy.”

The survey’s major findings were presented at the 2017 LBQ Women’s Health Conference in Sydney last week, hosted by ACON and the Victorian AIDS Council.

“Many programs and services targeting women in the wider population have failed to resonate with LBQ women, and information gathered by SWASH provides a vital means by which specific messaging can be developed that reaches and connects with them,” ACON Deputy CEO Karen Price said.According to the report