UC researcher to study the FAB400, a cohort of sexual minority women
Clinical psychologist Sarah Whitton receives second federal grant to study sexual minority health
A federally funded study, led by University of Cincinnati clinical psychologist and researcher Sarah Whitton, PhD, looks to identify mental health risks and protective factors for sexual minority women (SMW).
The study participants are a racially diverse cohort of nearly 400 sexual minority women (including those who identify as lesbian, bisexual, queer or another non-heterosexual identity) ages 21-26, called FAB400, who participated in a prior study led by the researcher.
“We have a lot of data from their adolescence and this new study will continue to follow them into their young adulthood,” Whitton says of receiving an R01 grant, for $3.8 million, from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to pursue another phase of research with the cohort.
The current grant, Whitton says, will build upon the seven waves of data she previously collected from this cohort, starting at ages 16-20, to create the largest ever longitudinal study of sexual minority women. The aim of the original study, funded by an initial R01 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, was to identify risk and protective factors for a variety of experiences that all LGBTQ youth face more often than their heterosexual peers, including dating violence, bullying, substance use and abuse and mental health struggles.
Alarmingly, Whitton says that she and her research team — which includes UC graduate students — found that young sexual minority women had extremely high rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues — even more so than young sexual minority men.
Sexual minority women are historically understudied and underfunded.
Sarah Whitton, PhD UC clinical psychologist and researcher in the Department of Psychology.
“We saw striking rates of mental health problems and suicidality in the population,” says Whitton, adding that SMW have been “historically understudied and underfunded” compared to their male counterparts.
With this grant, she says, the team will now collect an additional six waves of data, over 2.5 years, to track their mental health through young adulthood and identify specific experiences that increase risk for psychological problems or that protect SMW against those problems. The study also seeks to understand the pathways through which societal stigma (e.g., prejudice, discrimination) can lead to mental health issues in SMW, such as family rejection, social isolation and internalization of negative views. The study will also analyze biological data from the participants, through blood draws, to measure chronic inflammation and its effects on SMW’s mental health.
Dr. Whitton has an outstanding record of obtaining funding in a highly competitive climate...
Paula Shear, PhD Head of the Department of Psychology
UC partnered with Northwestern University’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing in Chicago for access to the population and recruitment.
“Our team has extensive experience using research findings to develop interventions and will use the study results to develop programs to prevent and treat mental illness in this population,” says Whitton.
In her field, “Dr. Whitton has an outstanding record of obtaining funding in a highly competitive climate and of providing training to our many students who are given the opportunity to contribute to study aims,” remarks Paula Shear, head of the UC Department of Psychology.
Featured image at top courtesy of Unsplash/Vonecia Carswell
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