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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Stress and support among southern lesbians: An application of the stress process model
by Irwin, Jay A., Ph.D., The University of Alabama at Birmingham, 2009, 178; 3356375
Abstract (Summary)

The research question to be addressed in this dissertation is: Among adult Southern lesbians, does stress, social support, family ties, and social capital affect feelings of well-being among adult lesbians? Well-being is operationalized as depressive symptoms in this investigation. A study of this magnitude has not been conducted on such a population in previous work, either in sexuality research, or in the stress literature. This dissertation uses the stress process model as the main theoretical perspective and contributes to the existing literature on minority populations regarding the importance of stress, resources, and mental health.

Lesbians in the Southern region of the U.S. face many stressors in their everyday lives, some of which are unique to the population. Such lesbian-specific stressors are homophobia, discrimination, and familial issues. By using the stress process model, this research focuses on the importance of stressors, both general and population-specific, in understanding levels of depressive symptoms. Also, psychosocial resources are key to understanding possible mediation effects on the relationship between stressors and depression. Furthermore, the life course perspective, which looks at individuals as inextricably connected with others and bound to their social and temporal locations, informs the current investigation by highlighting unique characteristics of the population.

In order to answer the research question put forward in this work, primary data are collected through the Lesbian Social Life (LSL) study. The LSL study consists of 1,141 self-identified lesbians living in 13 Southern U.S. states. Hypotheses are tested using Structural Equation Modeling (SEM). Overall, 5 of the 6 hypotheses are at least partially supported, showing that the stress process model is a good framework for understanding the experience of mental health issues in a lesbian population. General stress is the best predictor of depressive symptoms, and partial mediation of this relationship is present through the psychosocial resources of social support and mastery. Discrimination is also significant in predicting depression, with partial mediation present through social support. Residential partnership status is the strongest sociodemographic predictor of depressive symptoms, similar to marital status for heterosexual populations.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Drentea, Patricia
Commitee: Austin, Erika L., Cotten, Shelia R., Sawyer, Patricia L., Vance, David E.
School: The University of Alabama at Birmingham
Department: Medical Sociology
School Location: United States -- Alabama
Source: DAI-A 70/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Womens studies, Clinical psychology, Sociology
Keywords: Lesbians, Mental health, Sexual minority, Social support, Stress process, Stress process model
Publication Number: 3356375
ISBN: 978-1-109-16619-4
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