The Invisible Women

Feds spending $718,770 to study postpartum depression in ‘invisible sexual minority women’

Demonstrators protest sequestration cuts to NIH funding / AP
• March 3, 2014 2:53 pm


The National Institutes of Health is spending $718,770 to study postpartum depression in "invisible sexual minority women."

Claiming there is an overabundance of research on postpartum depression in heterosexual married women, the project sets out to find what, "if at all," impact sexual orientation has on postpartum mental health.

Clark University, in Worcester, Mass., is conducting the study that will interview 20 "visible" and "invisible" sexual minority women to fill the research gap.

"Sexual minority mothers may have distinct risk factors for PPD [Postpartum depression]," the grant states.

"In particular, minority stress and its manifestations (e.g., experiences of discrimination) have been associated with mental health outcomes in the general population of sexual minorities, although no studies have evaluated the impact of these variables on mental health in sexual minority women during the first postpartum year, a time of particular vulnerability to depression," it said.

The project identifies two types of "sexual minority women": visible and invisible.

Visible sexual minority women are defined as those who "identify as lesbian or bisexual and who are partnered with other women." So-called invisible sexual minority women are those who "have a history of sexual relationships with women in the past 5 years, but who are currently partnered with men."

The study will run for three years. The first grant, awarded last year, was worth $248,874. The entire study will cost $718,770.

The project claims that invisible sexual minority women have an "elevated risk" for postpartum depression, based on the researcher’s "preliminary pilot data."

Abbie Elizabeth Goldberg, an associate professor in Clark University’s Psychology Department, is leading the study. She currently runs a "Diverse Families Lab," conducting research on adoptive parent families and gay parents.

Goldberg previously received $152,000 in stimulus funding for a study on getting lesbians ready for "adoptive parenthood."

Goldberg also studied "relationships with others who share the same sperm donor," which was financed through Clark University.

Her latest project seeks to answer "how invisible sexual minorities see their sexual/relationship histories, if at all, as influencing thei [sic] transition to parenthood and their current mental health."

The study will follow the first 6 to 8 weeks after childbirth for 20 "invisible sexual minority women" to see if their depression is greater than "visible" sexual minorities and heterosexual women.

The project will examine "anxiety symptoms" and "whether invisible sexual minority women have different trajectories of depression, anxiety, or positive mood than other women."

"Minority stress processes" will also be assessed, including "experiences of perceived discrimination, disclosure/concealment of sexual identity, and internalized homophobia."

"LGBTQ-specific forms of social support" will be tested as a remedy to postpartum depression.

"We aim to explore what barriers invisible sexual minority women report in seeking mental health or perinatal health services, and what suggestions they have for mental health or perinatal health providers, with regards to serving women with diverse sexual relationship histories and identities," the grant said.

The study is recruiting a total of 140 pregnant women, including 20 visible sexual minority, 20 invisible sexual minority, and 100 heterosexual women.

"The findings will have implications for policy development and service delivery to visible and invisible sexual minority mothers," the grant said.

"This research has exciting possibilities for shifting our understanding of sexual identity, behavior, and relationship history and their implications for mental health, particularly during the transition to parenthood," Goldberg said at the time of the award. "We hope that our findings will be able to inform the practice of health care providers who interface with women during the perinatal period."

The project is in collaboration with Canada, as Goldberg is working with Lori E. Ross, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

The U.S. taxpayers recently spent more than $52,000 to study 16 schizophrenic LGBT Canadians.