Mental Health Service Utilization Among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning or Queer College Students

Published in: Journal of Adolescent Health, [Epub May 2017]. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.03.008

Posted on RAND.org on June 02, 2017

by Michael Stephen Dunbar, Lisa Sontag-Padilla, Rajeev Ramchand, Rachana Seelam, Bradley D. Stein

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Purpose

College students are at high risk for mental health problems, yet many do not receive treatment even when services are available. Treatment needs may be even higher among sexual minority students, but little is known about how these students differ from heterosexual peers in terms of mental health needs and service utilization.

Methods

A total of 33,220 California college students completed an online survey on mental health needs (e.g., current serious psychological distress and mental health–related academic impairment) and service utilization. Using logistic regressions, we examined differences in student characteristics, mental health service use, and perceived barriers to using on-campus services by sexual minority status.

Results

Approximately 7% of students self-identified as sexual minorities. Compared with heterosexual students, sexual minority students endorsed higher rates of psychological distress (18% vs. 26%, p < .001) and mental health–related academic impairment (11% vs. 17%, p < .001) but were 1.87 (95% confidence interval: 1.50-2.34) times more likely to use any mental health services. Sexual minority students were also more likely to report using off-campus services and to endorse barriers to on-campus service use (e.g., embarrassed to use services and uncertainty over eligibility for services).

Conclusions

Sexual minority individuals represent a sizeable minority of college students; these students use mental health services at higher rates than heterosexual peers but have high rates of unmet treatment need. Efforts to address commonly reported barriers to on-campus service use, foster sexual minority-affirmative campus environments, and promote awareness of campus services may help reduce unmet treatment need in this population.

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