Sexual minority women are at an elevated risk for depression compared to heterosexual women, yet less is known about how gender roles affect the mental health of sexual minority women. Existing studies examining the role of self-esteem in the relationship between gender roles and depression are scarce and have predominantly focused on heterosexual populations. Using a cross-sectional survey of Chinese lesbians in Hong Kong (N = 438), the study tested the direct and indirect effects of different types of gender roles (masculine, feminine, and androgynous) on depression through the mediating factor of self-esteem. We found that masculinity and androgyny were positively associated with self-esteem, while femininity was negatively associated with self-esteem. More importantly, self-esteem fully mediated the inverse relationship between masculinity and depression and that between androgyny and depression. The positive relationship between femininity and depression was also fully mediated by self-esteem. By examining different types of gender roles and incorporating gender roles, self-esteem, and depression into a unified framework, the research highlighted the particularly protective effect of androgyny, which had the strongest positive direct effect on self-esteem and indirect effect on depression through the mediation of self-esteem compared to the effects of other types of gender roles. Our results illuminate the importance of understanding how individual differences in gender roles relate to the mental health of sexual minority women in future research and interventions. Implications for interventions that help Chinese lesbians cope with gender expectations and improve their mental health are discussed.
Keywords: Depression; Gender role; Lesbians; Mental health; Self-esteem; Sexual orientation.