OGDEN, Utah – Lesbian women are 4.7 times more likely to intentionally injure themselves and four times more likely to consider suicide than their heterosexual female counterparts on college campuses.
That is one of the findings Laura Santurri, Weber State University assistant professor of health promotion and human performance, discovered when reviewing data from a national survey of 150,000 college-aged women.
Santurri collaborated with colleagues from Kent State University: Dianne Kerr, associate professor in the School of Health Sciences, and Patricia Peters in the Research and Evaluation Bureau.
Their findings, published in the Journal of American College Health, found striking mental health disparities with those who identified as lesbian or bisexual compared to heterosexual college women in virtually every mental health category measured. Categories included feelings of overwhelming anxiety, anger, hopelessness, loneliness, sadness and depression.
“Many studies lump lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people together,” Santurri explained. “That’s a starting point, but a gay man may be very different than a bisexual woman, who both are going to be very different from a transgender individual. Very few studies look specifically at lesbian and bisexual women at the college level."
In fact, bisexual women reported the most significant mental health disparity and were almost five times more likely to intentionally injure themselves or to attempt suicide and three times more likely to be diagnosed with depression.
The American College Health Association has a survey administered by many universities across the nation. Santurri and her colleagues dissected that data for three semesters in 2008-09.
“We have national data that indicates there are significant mental health issues related to stigma, discrimination and unfair policies,” Santurri said. “We need to do better research to understand this, and we also need to implement interventions. After we make change, we want to evaluate and see if it’s been successful. For me, it’s really about making a difference in the community.”
Santurri said for the past decade the health promotion agenda of the Department of Health and Human Services has instigated a national call to action to address health issues of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community.
Santurri plans to investigate attitudes and experiences of LGBT students at WSU during spring semester with needs assessment, using a “PhotoVoice” approach. Students will receive a series of questions and take digital pictures that reflect their feelings about the answers.
They will then participate in a daylong workshop to discuss the context and the stories behind the pictures — an exhibit of which will go in display in April. Santurri said the project will supply data potentially to make changes at the university, while the photo exhibit will raise awareness.
“I come from a strong social-justice background,” Santurri explained about her passion for the topic. “For me it’s taking time to really ask these students, ‘What is it like to be an LGBT student here? What are the challenges you face? And what are some of the positive and supportive things you find here, and how can we build on those?’
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