Monitoring Mental Health

Communication professor Kirsten Weber, Ph.D., works with student Kayla Norton on researching how sense of community impacts the mental health of lesbians

| Author: Ellie Heron, ORGS Intern | Media Contact: Kara Owens

Kirsten Weber, Ph.D., a professor in the Communication Department, is working with Honors undergraduate student Kayla Norton to determine how different forms of community building impact the mental health of lesbian women. There has been a decline in the number of lesbian-specific face-to-face spaces, leading to an increase of socialization online. This shift from in-person to online community building changes the way that lesbians interact.

According to the Lesbian Bar Project, there are only 21 lesbian bars as of 2021, a shift from the hundreds that were previously recognized in the late 1980’s. This lack of lesbian-specific safe spaces has led to an increase of socialization online, via dating apps and social media. This shift takes away the potential for physically safe spaces, in-person interactions, and intergenerational dialogue.

Weber and Norton are researching how this shift impacts the mental health of lesbian women. They plan on interviewing women nationally regarding their sense of community and their mental health. All participants will be over the age of 18, but Weber and Norton are specifically aiming to document an intergenerational perspective, as they anticipate that older women may have more experiences with face-to-face spaces, whereas younger women will have more experience with social media interactions.

The interviews are anticipated to take place in the summer of 2022, before the paper will be written in the fall. Weber and Norton expect that increased face-to-face interactions will “offer opportunities for more depth of intimacy”, something that they believe will be associated with improved mental health. They also predict that online spaces will offer support for those who don’t have access to in-person spaces. Weber and Norton hope that their findings will be helpful for improving the mental health of lesbian women going forward.

This story is brought to you by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

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