Ten years of lesbian health survey research in the UK West Midlands
BACKGROUND: Very little is known about the physical health needs of lesbian and bisexual women in the UK; most research has looked at mental or sexual health only. This article reports the results of four surveys carried out in the West Midlands between 1995 and 2005. METHODS: The first two surveys were conducted in 1995-6 by a volunteer group, with participants from a lesbian health conference (n = 69) and in a convenience sample from a wide range of relevant groups and venues (n = 354). The second two surveys were commissioned by the West Midlands South Strategic Health Authority in partnership with the Gay Men's Health Network and were conducted in 2002 (n = 449) and 2005 (n = 166) and again used convenience sampling methods including the internet. RESULTS: The mean age of respondents varied between 29-33 years and 5-7% were from a non-white ethnic background. The smoking rates varied from 42% o 55%, being twice the West Midlands regional average of 21% for women aged 16 or more. Similarly, problems with alcohol were reported in 25-37% of respondents, higher than the West Midlands regional average of 7% for women aged 16+. The prevalence of any mental health problem varied between 31-35% and any suicide attempt between 20-31%. Only 29-45% had revealed their sexual orientation to their GP and of these, approximately 50% had experienced a positive reaction. CONCLUSION: The results suggest health needs that current UK health services may not be meeting. There is a need to identify and target specific health measures for lesbians and bisexual women in order to ensure improved physical and mental health in the longer term.