Sexual Minority College Students Still Report Barriers to Campus Mental Health Services

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Michael S. Dunbar, PhD Associate Behavioral Scientist RAND Corporation

Dr. Dunbar

Michael S. Dunbar, PhD
Associate Behavioral Scientist
RAND Corporation

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Sexual minority college students suffer from mental health problems like anxiety and depression at higher rates than their heterosexual peers. If they aren’t addressed, these types of issues can have serious negative effects on things like academic achievement, employment, and quality of life –among others. This study analyzed information from a survey about mental health needs and use of mental health services. The survey was completed by over 33,000 students from nine University of California campuses, nine California State University campuses and 15 California community colleges. The results were weighted to help reflect California’s college student population.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Response: About 1 in 15 of the students surveyed (7%) identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or questioning. Compared to their heterosexual peers, sexual minority students who reported mental health problems were more likely to use mental health services to address these problems; however, most (two-thirds) of these students did not use any services. Among students who needed help but didn’t get it on campus, sexual minority students endorsed specific barriers to using on-campus services at higher rates than their heterosexual peers, including concerns over confidentiality, uncertainty over whether they were eligible for services, and embarrassment over using services. They also were more likely to report seeking help off-campus.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Sexual minority college students were more likely to use mental health services when in need, but they also reported barriers to using on-campus services at significantly higher rates than their heterosexual peers. When they’re experiencing a mental health problem, sexual minority students may need to overcome more barriers to get the help that they need. While it’s encouraging that a number of these students are able to persevere through barriers to access services, it’s important to note that most students did not use any services when in need.

On the whole, on-campus mental health services tend to be more accessible and convenient for many students. In addition, many students – especially those outside of major urban areas– might not have ready access to mental health services off-campus, let alone resources like gay and lesbian community organizations or clinics that offer identity-affirming services. As such, efforts to better understand and address common barriers that may limit the use of on-campus services could go a long way toward reducing unmet treatment need and improving a range of psychological, social, and academic outcomes in this group.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We still have a lot to learn about mental health service use and unmet treatment need in sexual and gender minority student populations. A major outstanding question from this study is: why do sexual minority students access services at higher rates than their heterosexual peers during times of need, despite facing more barriers to using those services? Looking into this issue in greater detail could offer valuable insights about the factors that promote mental health service use and/or counteract barriers to accessing services in vulnerable populations.

Another important area for future research is mental health service use among transgender college students. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to assess factors associated with service use among trans college students in this study. Trans students face a number of unique stressors and other considerations that could affect where, when, how, and why they choose to access help if they are experiencing mental health difficulties. Understanding more about mental health service use among trans students has critical implications for efforts to ensure that these students are able to get appropriate help when in need.

Disclosures: Support for the study was provided by California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), an organization of county governments working to improve mental health outcomes for individuals, families and communities in California. Programs implemented by CalMHSA are funded by counties through Proposition 63, which provides the funding and framework needed to expand mental health prevention and early intervention services to previously underserved populations and all of California. The authors have no conflicts to disclose.

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Citation:

Mental Health Service Utilization Among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning or Queer College Students
Michael S. Dunbar, Ph.D. Correspondence information about the author Ph.D. Michael S. Dunbar Email the author Ph.D. Michael S. Dunbar,Lisa Sontag-Padilla, Ph.D.,Rajeev Ramchand, Ph.D., Rachana Seelam, M.P.H.Bradley D. Stein, M.D., Ph.D.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.03.008
May 23, 2017

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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