A new study has revealed that while same-sex women experience higher rates of alcohol and mental health issues than straight women, most don’t access treatment.

The University of Melbourne-led study of 521 same-sex attracted women found that 70 per cent of those aged between 18 and 25 reported alcohol use that exceeded national guidelines, but only six per cent accessed treatment.

And overall, only 41.4 per cent of participants who needed mental health and alcohol treatment had actually used it.

The research found that significant barriers to accessing treatment included previous negative experiences related to sexual identity.

It also found that women were more likely to seek treatment if they felt connected to the LGBTI community, and had a regular GP who they were out to.

University of Melbourne professor and chief investigator, Ruth McNair, said some same-sex attracted women were reluctant to seek help as they worried about being discriminated against.

She said that a supportive GP was critical.

“It’s even more important for people who have suffered some discrimination and that’s one of the underlying reasons for their drug or alcohol use,” she said.

“Same-sex attracted women are consistently less likely than heterosexual women to use alcohol treatment services, despite reporting more problematic drinking.

“Bisexual and ‘mainly heterosexual’ women demonstrate even higher risks than lesbian women.

“Disclosing sexual identity to a regular, trusted GP correlated with improved utilisation of alcohol and mental health treatment for same-sex attracted women… the benefits of seeking help for alcohol use, and of accessing LGBTI-inclusive GPs to do so, should be promoted to them.”

McNair added that it was important for health professionals to be aware of LGBTI issues and to encourage patients to feel comfortable discussing them.

“It often doesn’t come up,” she said.

Published in the UK Royal College of General Practitioners’ journal BJGP Open, the study involved researchers from the University of Melbourne, La Trobe University, Columbia University, Royal Melbourne Hospital, and Monash University.

McNair said organisations such as the Australian Lesbian Medical Association and the Victorian AIDS Council could help to find LGBTI-friendly health professionals.

Alcohol and mental health will be among the issues tackled at this year’s LGBTIQ Women’s Health Conference in Melbourne.

To check out the study, click here.

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