The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Spirituality and Mental Health Among Sexual Minority Women

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Karen C. Fieland, PhD, Assistant Professor, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA
Kimberly Balsam, PhD, Associate Professor, Palo Alto University, Palo Alto, CA
Purpose: Sexual minority women (SMW) have higher prevalence rates of mood disorders and co-morbidity of mental disorders when compared to heterosexual peers. The role of spirituality in the mental health of individuals is an emerging area of research. This has been an underexplored area among SMW. Though spirituality is multidimensional, many studies use global measures to operationalize spirituality. This study presents data from a cross-sectional study investigating the mental health of a community-based sample of 270 SMW from Washington State. Specifically, this study examined the association of two facets of spirituality (self-compassion and daily spiritual experiences) with depression and anxiety.

Methods: The study employed a mixed sampling approach including targeted and respondent sampling methodology.  Recruitment was also opened to volunteer participants. All participants completed a web-based survey and were compensated $50. The 270 study respondents were SMW between 18 and 84 years old (M=40.6) living in Washington State. In this sample, 38% were racial or ethnic minorities. Among these SMW, 61% identified as lesbian, 4% as gay, 16% as bisexual, 17% as queer, and 2% as two-spirit. This sample is highly educated with 65% having at least a college degree and 31% having a graduate or professional degree. The average individual income was between $30,000 and $40,000. The short version of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale was used to assess the presence of depressive symptoms (α = .86).  The State Trait Anxiety Inventory was used to measure anxiety (α = .91). Spirituality measures included the Self-Compassion Scale (SCS) and the 6-item version of the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale (DSES). The SCS (α = .85) is a 6-item measure scored on a four-point Likert-type scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). The DSES (α = .92) has been utilized in the Brief Multidimensional Measure of Religion and Spirituality and is intended to complement other spiritual domains in a multidimensional instrument; it is scored on a six-point Likert-type scale from 0 (never or almost never) to 5 (many times a day). In the first hierarchical regression model, depressive symptomatology was regressed on demographics (age, individual income, education level), the SCS, and the DSES. In the second model, anxiety was regressed on demographics, the SCS, and the DSES.

Results: A minority of participants considered themselves to be moderately or very religious (13%) and a majority of participants considered themselves to be moderately or very spiritual (63%). As hypothesized, hierarchical regression analyses controlling for income, education, and age showed that both spirituality factors—self-compassion and daily spiritual experiences—significantly predicted anxiety (Adjusted R Square = .370, p < .001) and depression (Adjusted R Square = .214, p < .001); those with greater self-compassion and daily spiritual experiences reported less depression and less anxiety.

Implications: These findings are promising in two areas. First, this study furthered research investigating the different facets of spirituality associated with mental health. Second, spirituality is an important factor in the mental health of SMW. Authors discuss the implications for social work interventions.