Research projects

Rainbow Women’s Help Seeking Behaviour Research

Principal researchers

Associate Professor Ruth McNair

Mrs Rachel Bush


The Department of General Practice, The University of Melbourne



Award type

Beyond Blue grant

Project completion year


Project brief

Beyond Blue commissioned this study to better understand the preferences and methods of help seeking by ‘rainbow women’ in order to target their mental health promotion efforts more effectively. Rainbow women in this study include any person identifying as lesbian, bisexual, queer or other diverse sexual orientations, same-sex attracted, and/or trans, gender queer, or other diverse gender identities, and people with intersex variations.

The project objectives were to;

a) Improve knowledge on help-seeking behaviour of rainbow women (RW) and identify the most appropriate communication methods and language;

b) Identify priorities for developing targeted messaging to RW, thereby contributing to RW having increased awareness of depression/anxiety and the actions to take, and decreasing stigma; and

c) Summarise the knowledge that will guide the development of medium term project proposals for the population of RW.

This is one of the largest samples of rainbow women collected in Australia at the time of the study. In all 1706 Australian people from the ages of 18-81 responded to the online survey, of whom 1628 completed all sections of the survey used for analysis. The participants to the online survey were a very diverse group of people. Women who identified as lesbian, bisexual, queer and pansexual were well represented, as were a wide range of gender identities including female, gender queer, and trans female. Certain groups tended to be younger including gender queer, agender, pansexual, asexual and bisexual people, which is likely to reflect the emerging identities in this population.

Key findings were as follows:

  • The levels of distress, stress, depression and anxiety in the sample were relatively high compared with population averages. In general, the participants’ perceived level of mental health problems matched the actual level measured on their completed mental health measures.  There were some differences according to ethnicity, education levels and income.
  • People in all subgroups of sexual orientation and gender identity had high rates of stress, distress, depression and anxiety. Lesbian identified women were least likely to have mental health problems, as were female-identified people. The groups that had the highest levels of problems including stress, distress, depression and anxiety were those identifying as asexual, ‘other’, pansexual, bisexual, intersex, gender queer, agender and trans male.
  • The people in the sample had a high levels of connection to both LGBTI and mainstream communities, although LGBTI connectedness was more common than mainstream connectedness. LGBTI community connectedness varied very little according to identity subgroups or general interest subgroups. The people who were most connected with LGBTI community were gender diverse, agender, then lesbian, queer, pansexual and trans connected people. The most mainstream connected were heterosexual identified, parenting, volunteer and politically connected women.
  • Resilience was mildly correlated with mainstream community connectedness, but not at all correlated with LGBT community connectedness.
  • Overall, formal (professional) help seeking was more common than informal (peer) help seeking, but were inter-related. Formal and informal help seeking were both lower for certain subgroups including those living in rural areas, people who were not indigenous, had higher education and higher income. Informal help seeking reduced as women aged, but not formal help seeking.
  • Experiencing discrimination or judgement were the most common barriers to help seeking, followed by a lack of LGBTI sensitivity of services. Lack of readiness or self-reliance were common barriers, and around one third of survey participants were concerned about lack of confidentiality.
  • The most common enabler was having a trustworthy GP, followed by encouragement to get help by a friend or partner. Having a choice of provider was an enabler for up to one third of participants. There was a high level of agreement in the importance of access to LGBTI sensitive mainstream services across all subgroups, but particularly amongst trans women, gender queer, queer and pansexual women. 

Download the final report


Stay in touch with us

Sign up below for regular emails filled with information, advice and support for you or your loved ones.

Sign me up