What is going wrong for young queer women? High rates of mental distress and diagnoses – Sydney Women‰’s Health Survey (SWASH) results


Australian and international research demonstrates that lesbian, bisexual, queer (LBQ) women have worse mental health than the general population, due to stigma, family and community rejection and discrimination. SWASH is a longitudinal cross-sectional health survey for women connected to Sydney‰’s LGBTI communities. Every two years we invite women attending events around the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, receiving 500-1000 responses from non-heterosexual women aged 16 years and over, including women who identify as transgender and/or intersex. We use the Kessler-6 scale to measure prevalence of recent psychological distress, and ask women if they have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. We found that mental health has degraded over time; the proportion of women reporting high mental distress increased from 8% (2010) to 14% (2016). Among younger women aged 16-24 years, the proportion reporting high distress tripled from 12% in 2010 to 35% in 2016. Two-thirds of young LBQ women reported they have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder within last 5 years. These are alarming figures. We theorise the increase has been at least partly due to negative media portrayal of LGBTI communities around Safe Schools and marriage equality, and increased sense of hostility to queer communities due to Sydney‰Ûªs lock-out laws. We argue that as our communities lick their wounds and turn to other challenges, particular care is needed for our young LBQ women. At HiD, data collection for SWASH 2018 will be complete and preliminary results will be available, including on suicidal ideation and self-harm.


Rachel Deacon | rachel.deacon@sydney.edu.au

Rachel Deacon is a drug and alcohol researcher with the Sydney University and South Eastern Sydney Local Health District. Her research interests include lesbian, bi and queer women’s health and improving outcomes measures in drug and alcohol treatment